Christmas at San Xavier
For the ninth consecutive Christmas season Orpheus performed at the spectacular Mission San Xavier del Bac, six performances in three nights with the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and a variety of excellent soloists.
Our come-as-you-are “dress rehearsal” on the day prior to the arrival of the paying customers has attracted ever-increasing audiences through the years. This time we played to a nearly full house—a nice experience for us. The crowd did not seem to mind the stops and starts, or the lack of the ambiance of the real thing. Nor did they feel constrained to keep silence; applause and even some bravos rang through the glorious old mission after each song.
The brass section never made it to the rehearsal. Seems they showed up at the wrong place. (How many San Xaviers are there in the vicinity?) Their absence gave rise to such jokes as:
Johnny: “Mommy, I want to be a trumpet player when I grow up.” Mommy: “Johnny, you can’t do both.”
What is a trombone? A wind-driven pitch approximator.
What do you call unmarried French horn players? Homeless.
They showed up on time when it counted, and played beautifully, adding a brilliant flavor to the music.
The final performance on December 8 was a swan song of sorts for Loraine Drachman who is giving up her position as Executive Director of the Patronato San Xavier, the organization that sees to the refurbishment of the mission. She will continue to serve on the committee, but she’ll turn the reins over to Vern Lamplot. Loraine has raised a ton of cash during her 12-year tenure. Thanks to her efforts the ancient mission, still a work in progress, is beautiful and destined to stand for another couple of centuries at least.
Music as a Contact Sport
During a break in a rehearsal recently, Grayson Hirst told the choir that Klara Wojtkowska, the young violinist who has played the San Xavier concerts for several years, had received a scholarship at Rice University, and that she was coming home for Christmas vacation to play again. Grayson wondered aloud why she hadn’t gone to the Julliard School, his alma mater. Some wag shouted out “Because Julliard doesn’t have a football team,” whereupon Grayson informed us that Julliard did have a football team, at least in his day. Every Saturday Julliard lined up for a game in the park against the Riverside Rats.
Grayson Hirst accepting the Haydn Trophy
Directing a choir takes a certain amount of athleticism, especially if the conductor has a natural taste for the dramatic and a choir that is sometimes loath to pay attention. Grayson’s gridiron days have served him well.
Thanks to our Faithful Green Valley Fans
Our Green Valley Christmas concert was well attended as always. We mix secular music with sacred, so there are odd juxtapositions like the 12th century “Personent Hodie” with “It’s Beginning to look a Lot Like Christmas.” But it all seems to work. Iván Berger’s Spanglish rendition of Clement Moore’s “'Twas the Night Before Christmas” brought down the house.
Singing and Signing
Our final Christmas concert was the Community Food Bank benefit on December 13th. As has been the case for several years, the event takes place in conjunction with students from the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind at the Berger Auditorium on the ASDB campus.
Tenor Jerry Villano convinced the choir that it would be a good idea to sign one song. To that end he enlisted the services of Joe Camarillo, a sign language interpreter who signs at Jerry’s church, St. Pius X.
Joe came to a couple of rehearsals and showed us how to sign “White Christmas.” Art Dumes then filmed Joe at Jerry’s house while Jerry sang and played the piano in the background. Then Tom Wentzel sent Art’s video out to the choir via e-mail so we could study in the safety of our own homes. After Joe agreed to be at ASDB to lead us, we were supremely confident. Almost.
Because signing demands the use of both hands, we weren’t able to hold the music. Memorizing Christmas music other than “Silent Night” has never been a requirement for Orpheus, so we worried that the deaf kids would think we were lousy signers and the blind kids would think we were lousy singers.
Turns out to be true that it’s the thought that counts. The blind kids clapped, and the deaf kids waved their hands over their heads. And we got through it with no injuries.
It was a grand evening. We shared it with Ramona Grijalva and the young mariachi group, Los Changitos Feos. But the biggest ovations went to the ASDB kids who sang on stage.
Our thanks to Albertson’s/Osco for advertising the event aggressively, and for matching contributions pound for pound and dollar for dollar.
Also to members of the Sons of Orpheus board of directors who manned the doors, collected the loot, and served juice and cookies after the concert.
From Grayson Hirst
It’s a bit late for a Christmas story, but this is a good one you might save up for next December:
Cantique de Noël (“O Holy Night”) was first performed at a small midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in 1847. Neither the poet Placide Cappeau, commissioner of wines in a small French town, nor the musician Adolphe Adam, a talented and successful Parisian composer of comic operas and ballets, were prepared for what happened next.
Initially the church in France wholeheartedly accepted Cantique de Noël, and the song quickly found its way into various Catholic Christmas services. But when church leaders discovered that Adam was a Jew, the song— which had quickly grown to be one of the most beloved Christmas songs in France— was suddenly and uniformly denounced by the church and deemed unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste and “total absence of the spirit of religion.”
The church tried to bury the song, but the French people continued to sing it. Legend has it that on Christmas Eve, 1871, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench. Both sides stared at the seemingly crazed man. Boldly standing without a weapon, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and began to sing, “Minuit, chretiens, c’est l’heure solennelle ou l’Homme Dieu descend it jusqu’ a nous,” the beginning of Cantique de Noël.
The story goes that for the next 24 hours the combatants observed a truce in honor of Christmas Day. Perhaps this story played a part in the church’s decision to restore Cantique de Noël. Eventually “O Holy Night” made its way around the world becoming one of the best loved anthems of all time.
Occasionally we present information about the legend of Orpheus, if only because we are often asked about our name. “Orifice, you say?” No, Orpheus, the greatest musician and poet of Greek myth, the son of Apollo and Calliope the Muse of epic poetry. Orpheus’ good genes and the lyre given him by his father enabled him to charm all who came within earshot.
Men’s choirs worldwide name themselves after Orpheus. He is admired not only for his ability to attract and please a crowd, but for his heroism as an Argonaut and his brave attempt to retrieve his beloved wife Eurydice from the underworld.
Artists over the centuries have depicted scenes from the Orpheus myth. You can find over 150 images of Orpheus, many with Eurydice, at www.rastko.org.yu/drama/zstefanovic/orfej/ mit/. This marvelous site begins with an “Orpheus” from the Stuttgart Psalter, ca. 830 A.D., and goes right through to images from the 21st century, including an acrylic by Belgian Jean-Claude Devereaux which shows Orpheus on a motorcycle and a bare-bottomed Eurydice looking quite content to stay where she is.
Along the way you’ll find such famous artists Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Gustave Moreau, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Pieter Paul Rubens.
(See “Orpheus in Art.” Vol. 5 #2 of The Voice of Orpheus, at www.sonsoforpheus.org.)
Another especially interesting image is John William Waterhouse’s “Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus.” One account of Orpheus’ death has it that he was accosted by a mob of Bacchantes who, enraged by drink at their Dionysian revels, beheaded him after overwhelming his song with their shrieks. We have heard that some audiences are like that, but we haven’t experienced it.
Below you see a marble sculpture completed in 1776 by Antonio Canova. It depicts Orpheus at the instant his wife is lost to him forever. After her death, Orpheus made his way to the underworld to reclaim her. The god Hades, deeply moved by Orpheus’ request, agreed to let her go on the condition that she follow Orpheus up to the world of the living, and that Orpheus not look at her until the journey was complete. Just as the couple approached the brink, Orpheus caught a glimpse of the sun and looked back to share his joy. Eurydice disappeared in a flash.
Orpheus torso, Antonio Canova
Profiling Ray Tess
Ray began studying piano in the second grade, but his real love has always been the organ. He comes by this naturally: his great uncle Leo Sowerby was Dean of the American College of Organists at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. In 1946, three years after moving to Tucson with his family from Vancouver, Washington, Ray began organ lessons from Camil Van Hulse, the founder of the Tucson Symphony. By the time Ray was a sophomore in high school, he was the assistant organist at All Saints. A year later he was the organist at St. Ambrose.
Ray graduated from Tucson high school in 1950 and went into the Navy where he served as a yeoman in legal departments and chaplaincies in various locations including a seventeen-month stint on Guam. One of his best memories from the Navy years is playing the famous Wannamaker organ in Wannamaker’s department store at Christmas while he was stationed in Philadelphia.
Despite Ray’s six years in the Navy, he hardly qualifies as a salt, having been on a ship for just three months. But it was a special ship, only the second of its kind: the Canberra, a WWII light cruiser refitted for guided missiles. Ray served as the captain’s telephone talker. Whatever the captain had to say to the crew, Ray’s voice was what they heard. (The captain could yell “Fire!” as loud as he might, but nothing went boom until Ray had his say.)
Ray tells the story of the Canberra's sea trials at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “We had gone out to test the Terrier missiles and gun mounts. The captain gave the order to fire both forward 8" turrets simultaneously. The resultant blast blew the hats off of everyone on the bridge.”
After his discharge, Ray returned to Tucson and started at the University of Arizona where his dexterity served him well. Typing 120 words a minute, he got a good reputation among klutzy students and wound up making too much money to waste time with classes. And from 1960 to 1968, Ray was also busy as the organist at Saints Peter and Paul.
In 1968 Ray moved to Mansfield, Ohio where he became the director of music for a large Catholic church and taught music in the parochial school.
In his second year he grew his choir to 90 members and began producing Gilbert and Sullivan shows in addition to the liturgical music. He also attended Ohio State University to continue his organ studies.
Detroit became Ray’s home in 1975 where for the next fourteen years he served four churches and worked as a word processor at a large legal firm. In 1990 Ray returned to Tucson to start Ray’s Word Works, a business of his own.
For the past eleven years Ray has been the organist at the First Christian Church. He says it’s the best congregation he’s ever served. He also presents three recitals a year and plays carols as the audiences come in for the San Xavier Christmas concerts.
Ray, a baritone with a fine, mellow voice, discovered Orpheus ten years ago. He produces our flyers and programs, and he is Grayson Hirst’s amanuensis. In a way Ray serves Grayson as he served the captain of the Canberra. Whenever Grayson needs to communicate in writing, nothing goes boom until Ray has his say.
Ray Tess in his Orpheus battle gear
The Russians Are Coming!!!
The Arizona Balalaika Orchestra and the Kalinka Russian Dancers have, once again, asked us to share the stage with them on Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 2:00 p.m. at the Pima College Center for the Arts Proscenium Theater, 2202 W. Anklam. Tickets are $15; $10 for students. They’ll be available at the door, but it would be wise to reserve them because these concerts play to packed houses. The PCC Box Office phone number is 206-6986. Tickets are also available at the Folk Shop, 2525 N. Campbell Ave.
The concerts feature the beautifully costumed 30-member orchestra playing the lovely and familiar music of Russia and Ukraine on authentic instruments. Ukranian-born Dr. Alexander Tentser will conduct. The Kalinka Russian dancers, under the direction of choreographer Richard Holden, will perform traditional Slavic dances.
Orpheus, wearing colorful rubashkas, will produce that sonorous sound that will have you believing we just rode in from the steppe.
Guest artists are virtuosi Sergey Vashchenko and Vladimir Kaliazine, both of whom began studying music in early childhood— Vashchenko on the balalaika (a triangular, three-stringed instrument) and Kaliazine on the bayan (a five-row chromatic button accordion).
Ukranian-born Vashchenko studied at the most prominent music school in the country, earning a Masters Degree in Music from the Ural Conservatory, eventually returning to become Dean of the Music Department.
A native Latvian, Kaliazine studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, earning high honors and subsequently touring as featured performer with the famous Dance Ensemble of Siberia.
The two men have toured together throughout Russia and Europe, calling their act “Kalinka” and making three recordings in the U.S.
The two men are fabulous, but don’t take just our word for it. The following is from a December 2004 letter to the noted pianist/conductor Giacomo Franci:
It has been my extreme pleasure to witness Sergey Vashchenko and Vladimir Kaliazine— “Kalinka” in concert. They graced the stage with pure artistry and great musical talent. Kalinka made an extraordinarily important contribution to our cultural arts community, and they left an indelible impact on the many admirers of classical music in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. This talented duo possesses a unique gift.
(signed) Van Cliburn
Van Cliburn is not the only Texan who praises Kaliazine and Vashchenko. A somewhat lesser light, Charlie Ostrand, a fan of the legendary Texas western swing band known as the Light Crust Doughboys, heard Kaliazine and Vashchenko in concert. “These guys just have magic in their fingers,” he told Doughboy banjoist, Smokey Montgomery. Ostrand threw a party designed to introduce the Russians to the Doughboys, and a new sound was born.
In a book entitled The Light Crust Doughboys Are on the Air, University of North Texas Press, 2002, author John Mark Dempsey says of this new sound: “...the sprightly, intricate sounds created by the two Russians seem not at all out of place, and they are warmly received by the Doughboy fans.” Talk about a broad appeal! It’s going to be a great show!
Board Member Mia Hansen
Mia whirled into our sphere through her association with the Arizona Balalaika Orchestra and the Kalinka Russian Dancers. A couple of years ago we talked her into being our stage manager, and last August she joined our board where her experience with arts groups proves invaluable.
Mia’s great claim to fame has been as assistant choreographer for the acclaimed international group Up With People from 1981 to 1990.
She has toured and taught extensively throughout Europe, North and South America, and Japan while creating and producing exciting shows and special events such as two Super Bowl Halftimes, the 1986 International Special Olympics Opening Ceremonies, and Tivoli Gardens Mainstage Performances. She developed the dance and fitness training programs and taught master classes for various international dance companies while on tour, including the Moscow Circus, the Johnny Mann Singers, and the Tukac Theatre of Denmark.
In addition to the Kalinka Russian Dancers, Mia performs with Tucson Ethnic Dance Ensemble and the Leikaring Scandinavian Dancers. She shares her experience and knowledge with local companies as a consultant and teaches at the Ballet Arts Studio. Mia continues to dedicate her energy and versatility to the development of young dancers and aspiring professionals.
Mia also serves on the board of the Cultural Exchange Council of Tucson and the Up With People International Alumni Association. She consults for the boards of Ballet Tucson and the Arizona Balalaika Orchestra. She volunteers with the Community Food Bank, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tucson and the Senior Olympics. She looks forward to new challenges and she enjoys unwinding with a good book and a glass of red wine. (To watch Mia dance is to understand her need to unwind!)
Orpheus will provide Mia with all the books and red wine she needs if that’s what it takes to keep her on her toes and working for us and for this community!
If you’re reading this, we figure you like music, along with 750 + others who subscribe to the “Voice of Orpheus.” So, do you have something to advertise to your fellow music lovers? We’ll put you in our pages as follows:Size:
business card $15
quarter page $25 (3” wide x 4” long)
Submit clear, black and white, camera ready copy with full payment to Sons of Orpheus, P.O. Box 31552, Tucson AZ 85751, Attn: Ads. We go to press in October, January, and April. The editor reserves the right to reject advertising deemed inappropriate. Products or services advertised in our newsletter may not necessarily be endorsed by Sons of Orpheus.
Examples (but we mean it):
Orpheus is looking to add a few good men for the spring season! Drop in on a rehearsal soon. Wednesday evenings, 7:00 o’clock at the Tucson Boys Chorus building, 5770 E. Pima. For more information, please visit our website at www.sonsoforpheus.org
Call Grayson Hirst, 621-1649 for details.
Purrfect for Cat Lovers
Ned Mackey’s Cat Tales, an occasional journal on the raising of a litter of polydactyl kittens. Illustrations, color photos, and additional text by Gretchen Huff.
$14 inc. postage and handling from Hmackeyjr@aol.com, or visit Antigone Books, Mostly Books, the Book Shop in Green Valley Mall, or the Tortuga bookstore in Tubac.
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