History, Policies and Procedures
Sons of Orpheus prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, color, creed, religion, sex, age, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or associational preference regarding choir and board membership, staff, volunteers, and guest musicians.
A Few Thoughts from the Director, Grayson Hirst…
Why do people come together to sing? What, if anything, is different about singing in a male voice choir? Well, to begin, while the world is out there negotiating costs, benefits, and rewards, spending hours rather than redeeming them, here we are in our rarefied choir world negotiating spirited interpretations and reveling in a place where we are rewarded with connections, harmonies. Our reward is the celebration of what it means to do something worth doing just for the sheer love of doing it. The reward is the doing.
Beyond a feeling of brotherhood, beyond the joyful friendships, I believe reward for us lies in the pure love of singing itself. When we sing together, we unleash something inside ourselves that might otherwise be missing in our daily lives. We are able to give voice to what is otherwise emotionally inexpressible. There’s no denying it, when the tussling beefiness of a big male voice choir pours into us, we feel exuberant, enhanced by the soul-mix. We’re enlarged, recharged. Call it a spiritual ecstasy; call it gratitude for life’s mysterious unearned gifts.
History of Sons of Orpheus
The Early Years
In the fall of 1991 our Artistic Director Grayson Hirst, professor of voice at the University of Arizona, founded Sons of Orpheus—The Male Choir of Tucson as a community-based choral organization with the aid of a UA College of Fine Arts Faculty Incentive Grant to promote the vocal and choral leadership of the University of Arizona School of Music. Twelve men, some borrowed from local church choirs, formed the original group.
In the first few years, our performances were generally limited to a few “mini-concerts” plus an annual Spring Gala; but from the beginning we have sung in several foreign languages. Programs have consisted of romantic songs from Mexico, songs by Stephen Foster, Gregorian chants, operatic choruses, Spanish-American pieces, Welsh chorales, sea shanties, Cole Porter songs, Robert Frost poems set to music by Randall Thompson, and a growing collection of classic “cowboy” selections.
By the 1995-96 season we presented twelve performances. Besides several “mini-concerts,” we collaborated with the Catalina Chamber Orchestra and the Tucson Boys Chorus in three performances of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. We also began a long collaboration with the Arizona Balalaika Orchestra in its annual concerts, and later in the season presented a concert to an overflow crowd at the Tubac Center for the Arts. Performances for the Eastside Concert Series, the Green Valley Concert Association, an “appreciation” concert at Northminster Presbyterian Church, and the annual Spring Gala rounded out the season.
Soon our programs had grown to more than twenty concerts a season. In addition to a “mini-concert” schedule, in 1997 we began annual performances with the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus at Mission San Xavier del Bac for the benefit of the nonsectarian, nonprofit organization Patronato San Xavier that supports the restoration and preservation of this national historic landmark. In 1998 we began annual holiday benefit concerts for the Community Food Bank at the Berger Performing Arts Center on the campus of the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. We also began singing in Russian with the Arizona Balalaika Orchestra in their annual shows.
Other early performances of special note included a program shared with the Tucson Girls Chorus, participation in the Southwest Choral Festival at the Temple of Music and Art, several “cowboy” concerts at Old Tucson Studios, a concert for a national meeting of the National Trails Association, and performances with the Tucson Pops Orchestra. And of course, each performance season was capped off by our annual Spring Gala.
White House Trip and Our First European Tour (Germany, Austria, and Hungary)
The 1998-99 season featured our first major trip: an invited Christmas program at the White House; and by the 1999-2000 season we planned a successful two-week concert tour to Germany, Austria, and Hungary for June and July, collaborating with several European choral groups. The tour started in Cologne, featured a boat trip on the Rhine, and ended in Vienna. By now our membership had grown to more than fifty men. Orpheus had also hosted a visiting choir from Sopron, Hungary. In anticipation of our first European tour, a choir member designed and supervised the creation of a beautiful choir banner that was proudly displayed alongside the banners of our host choirs at all concerts. It continues to receive a place of honor at our performances.
Recordings, Mexican Trip, and Second European Tour (the British Isles)
At Christmastime in 2001 KUAT aired a half-hour special entitled “Christmas at San Xavier,” which we had videotaped earlier that fall. PBS repeated that show nationwide several times that year and over the next few years.
We recorded a CD, Arizona for the Holidays, in cooperation with the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Rodney Glassman. Then we producedEclectic, a CD of the live performance of the 2002 Spring Gala, followed by Live at the Proscenium, May 2003. Orpheus took the initial steps for producing two CDs, featuring sacred Christmas music, and another one featuring classic cowboy songs. Live at the Proscenium, as well as Star of Wonder: Christmas Masterworks from Around the World, Christmas at Mission San Xavier del Bac, and Cowboy Classics of the Old West, are available for sale on our CD page.
We continued to develop our repertoire and performance skills. In addition to the regular programs, a concert tour was made to the Mexican state of Sonora in March of 2001 that was well received by audiences and favorably reviewed by local arts critics.
During the summer of 2002 we made a successful concert tour to Ireland and the UK. Singing in Dublin’s St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, in Russian, Czech, Norwegian, and Welsh, we covered folk music, operatic choruses, American arrangements of Irish music, and a selection of cowboy songs from “Rawhide” to “Happy Trails.” We even astonished the audience with Jo Anderson, our own cowgirl yodeler, complete with a sparkly ten-gallon hat. At a beautiful community center in East Fife near Edinburgh, we sang a fund raiser for Save the Children with the East Fife Male Voice Choir, the two choirs alternating sections of the program until we stood together to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Scotland the Brave,” to the delight of a large and responsive audience. From there it was straight south to Wales, performing in Czech and Cowboy in a choral competition at the prestigious Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, then celebrating its 55th year. Two days later we sang with the Wessex Male Voice Choir in Swindon, England. Our final concert took place in West Ruislip near London. That fall we began a season of more than thirty performances.
Third European Tour (Italy)
On the strength of our successful 2002 tour of the British Isles, we made an Italian concert tour in 2004, often singing in Italian to the Italians. The tour’s highlight was singing a male choral version of “Nessun dorma” from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot, at the 7th Annual Alta Pusteria International Choir Festival in Dobbiaco, receiving a forever-memorable, overwhelming audience response.
Before leaving Tucson we had been singing some Spanish numbers with El Mariachi Tapatio, a group of twelve, led by their founder Alberto Ranjel, Jr.; they were able to join us in Italy to perform at five of our six concerts including one in Rome’s English-speaking Church of Santa Susana on Sunday, July 4, where we sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and then retired to the choir stalls to listen to Tapatio, perform La Misa Panamericana before our post-service concert.
Fourth European Tour (Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria)
We increased our international exposure during the summer of 2008 with a concert tour in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria, focusing on the Leipzig International Choral Festival.
As Orpheus is dedicated to providing an ongoing showcase for outstanding student musicians, two UA School of Music students were awarded Orpheus travel scholarships, making it possible for them to experience Europe for the first time.
This tour began in Leipzig, which boasts that it is “The City of Music,” no small claim in a country where great musicians abound and are considered national heroes. We visited the house where Felix Mendelssohn lived and died, and on 16 July paid homage to that composer with a performance in the music salon of the Mendelssohn-Haus. That day we also performed The Exodus Song in the Peterskirche as part of the Leipzig International Choral Festival. Orpheus also performed in a grand finale concert in another of Bach’s churches, the magnificent Nikolaikirche, where the Monday Demonstrations first touched off East Germany’s “Peaceful Revolution.” Prior to departing Leipzig on 18 July and having received a special invitation, we performed a solo homage to J.S. Bach in the Thomaskirche, where the great man spent the last twenty-seven years of his life as cantor, organist, and choirmaster.
From Leipzig we traveled east to Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic, located in the heart of central Europe. In that beautiful city’s Old Town we presented a concert in the Kostel sv. Mikuláse (Church of St. Nicholas), built in 1735.
Then it was on to Austria. In Faistenau, near Salzburg where Mozart was born, we performed portions of his Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) on 22 July.
Read more about our 2008 trip here.
Fifth European Tour (Italy Again)
On a Sunday afternoon in mid-July, 2012, carrying our music and dressed in our white dinner jackets, we walked in the heat of a Roman summer to St. Peter’s Basilica, made our way through security, and arrived near the main altar at 3 p.m. for our 4 p.m. performance, which had been made possible by the Most Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas, Bishop of Tucson. We were finally permitted to enter the apse at the end of the central nave behind the main altar, dominated by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Altar of the Chair of Peter. This chapel, the size of a small church, was soon filled with worshipers. We sang during the service accompanied on the pipe organ by our pianist, Brent Burmeister. Brent’s concentration was almost interrupted by the regular organist who kept changing stops and reaching around Brent to play some of the regular service music responses. Brent persevered. Probably the highlight of our participation was our singing of the “Sanctus” from Charles Gounod’s Messe solennelle de Sainte-Cécile with violin and tenor solos by students who accompanied us on our trip. Afterwards, we slowly made our way back to the bus, which then took us fairly close to a restaurant near the spectacular Trevi Fountain where we dined together.
We left for Florence the next day. Tuesday morning we traveled from Florence over forty miles to Pisa. Unbeknownst to us, our bus was required to park at the city’s outskirts. It was then that we discovered that no provision had been made to get us into the city’s center. The wife of one of our baritones spoke French with our bilingual driver and soon arrangements were made to use a tram, similar to those found in amusement parks, to get us where we needed to go. After sightseeing, we again boarded the tram for a public garden called Giardino Scotto, where, in our blue Orpheus polo shirts, we sang to our friends and a small number of Italian park goers, climbed aboard the toy transportation, met our bus, and returned to Florence.
The next evening we made three separate trips on a van to our venue near the Ponte Vecchio on the Arno River, the Chiesa di Santo Stefano, an impressive deconsecrated church dating back to 1116. Here in our white dinner jackets we sang to our friends and a small crowd of Italians and tourists. Walking back to our hotel, many of us stopped along the way for drinks or dinner.
The next morning, Orpheus departed, bound for the Cinque Terre region, a remote part of the Italian Riviera characterized by terraced vineyards, fishing villages, and rocky beaches. On Friday we were supposed to sing in the church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia in Vernazza, a fundraiser for that picturesque village, which had been severely affected by storms. But we reluctantly accepted the tour arranger’s recommendation to cancel our performance, due to a threatened national train strike, that would have prevented our return to our hotel in La Spezia.
Saturday took us to Milan. We dined together on Orpheus’s last night in Italy at a restaurant in the center of Milan.
Beginning in 2012 and continuing in 2013 we began to sing in Chinese at Centennial Hall on the University of Arizona campus to help celebrate the Chinese New Year Festival.
The musical repertoire for a given season is determined during the preceding spring and summer months. The Music Committee collects suggestions and recommendations for musical themes and individual songs from the membership of Sons. These suggestions are reviewed by the Artistic Director and the Music Committee. Music is chosen to reflect diversity in genre and style, sophistication, cultural background and language, and historical period. Choices are not simply a random collection of 4-part songs for male choirs. Rather, music is chosen to represent themes that highlight the talents of Sons while emphasizing genres of potential interest to our audiences.
A part of the Sons repertoire reflects standard "core" selections of secular Christmas and classic cowboy selections that are repeated in performances season to season.
Rehearsal Format and Schedules:
Rehearsals for the new season begin in late August. Rehearsals are held on Wednesdays from 7:00 to 9 p.m. and on most Saturday mornings from 8:30 to 10. On Wednesday evenings from 6:15 to 6:50, a general note bashing session is held to help members develop competence and confidence with the musical repertoire. All members are encouraged to attend this "prerehearsal" session. Promptly at 7 p.m., the regular rehearsal which all men are expected to attend begins. The regular rehearsal may be divided between working in sections (learning notes, rhythm language, phrasing, etc.), and rehearsing the total group to blend into an ensemble. This first portion of the regular rehearsal runs until 8 p.m. at which point a 10 minute break is scheduled. At 8:10 the group reconvenes and continues to rehearse until 9 p.m. Announcements and discussions of Orpheus related matters are conducted after 9 p.m.
In addition, as need dictates, rehearsals may be scheduled at other times to focus on nuts and bolts considerations in order to prepare the group for upcoming performances.
Fall rehearsals begin with an introduction to the opera choruses for the season. Other numbers to be integrated into the seasons' programming are also introduced including Russian songs and selections to be included into the San Xavier concerts in December. As the San Xavier concerts near, rehearsal time is devoted to the preparation of the sacred Christmas repertoire. Following these Christmas concerts, rehearsals emphasize the Russian music in preparation for performances in February with the Arizona Balalaika Orchestra. When the Russian concerts are completed, the focus of the rehearsals returns to the preparation of the opera choruses and other music to be featured in the Sons Spring Gala in May.
Members are expected to take their participation in the chorus seriously and are asked to make their commitment to rehearsal with a high priority. Members who expect to miss a rehearsal are asked to contact their respective section leaders. Absent members are responsible for "catching-themselves-up" by contacting their section leaders to find out what was missed.
During rehearsal time, members are expected to concentrate on the task at hand, learning to perform the music with excellence. Discussions with neighbors are to be avoided. The limited time for rehearsing is used to maximum efficiency when all men exercise self- discipline by staying focused on the music. Instruction in foreign language is the responsibility of the Artistic Director and other language experts designated to assist in the training. Members should be attentive listeners to the pronunciations provided, and should avoid repeating words and phrases aloud since such repetition makes it difficult for others to hear and grasp the nuances of pronunciation being taught. Section leaders are responsible for helping to create a positive, constructive learning atmosphere during rehearsals.
Sons of Orpheus is a performing choral organization and schedules 25-30 concerts per season. In an attempt to minimize the stress which naturally goes with a busy concert schedule, good faith efforts are made to schedule concerts no more frequently than on two week intervals, and around religious and other special holidays. Exceptions, of course, are inevitable and on occasion will require scheduling in a more concentrated manner.
The performance schedule features three major concert repertoires per season: the Christmas concerts at San Xavier and other venues, the Russian concerts, and our own Spring Gala concerts. All other concerts during the season draw on music from our "core" repertoire and from other music that has been selected for performance during the season.
Performances are typically scheduled on weekends - Friday evening, Saturday afternoon or evening, and Sunday afternoon. Although some performances may be scheduled in October and November, our major "fall" performances are comprised of Holiday music and scheduled in December. Since 1997 they have culminated in beautiful sacred Christmas performances with the Tucson Boy's Chorus at San Xavier Mission.
Our second major choral emphasis features Russian music performed in February in conjunction with the Arizona Balalaika Orchestra and the Kalinka Dancers. During late February, March, and April we turn our attention to preparing for the Spring Gala, and typically have 6-8 performances scheduled to help us fine tune our performances in anticipation of the Spring Gala. Following the Spring Gala in May we may have a few additional performances before ending our season. On alternate years we have performed with the Tucson Pops in June.
Major concerts are typically scheduled to be about 1 1/2 hours in length with an additional 15 minutes allotted for an intermission. So that the majority of the concert time is committed to the performance of music, commentary about the selections is condensed and minimized. Background information about the selections performed is published in the concert program for audiences to read at their leisure. All Sons are expected to make a commitment to the major performances.
Recognizing that all members are not able to participate in all scheduled performances, Sons has established the following plan. A volunteer sub-group of the men ("Flying Squad"), a minimum of 16 men (4 1T, 4 2T, 4 1B, 4 2B), has been established to perform short programs for service club luncheons, charitable organization benefits, retirement communities, etc.
Soloist openings are announced by the Artistic Director. Members who wish to be considered for such roles should contact the Artistic Director for an audition. All solo parts are to be memorized for performance. All soloists will be backed up by an understudy in case the primary soloist is unable to perform.
A "Season Calendar" is established at the beginning of the season identifying rehearsal times and performance dates as they become established and committed.
To help assure quality performances and audience satisfaction, only concert venues which provide adequate performance facilities (warm-up space, good light and sound systems in the performance area, adequate space for the choir, piano or organ in good repair, etc.) are scheduled.
Readiness to Perform:
To be assured that Sons concerts are of the highest quality, members must meet a "readiness to perform" standard. That is, members are expected to:
Performance Demeanor and Showmanship:
Sons of Orpheus is a performing choir. As such, it is important for members to demonstrate a level of professionalism in appearance, stage presence, and showmanship that reflects the choir's commitment to excellence. Such factors as everyone carrying his music book in the left hand when entering and exiting the stage in an organized manner, all members opening their books together when given that direction by the Artistic Director, turning pages in unison in a non-distracting way, being familiar enough with their music to be able to watch the Artistic Director for direction, maintaining eye-contact and being responsive to the audience as much as possible, and singing with joyfulness and a smile (when such is appropriate) are all marks of the professionalism that characterizes top-notch performing choirs.
Membership is open to men who love to sing and who are interested in performing a broad, challenging choral repertoire. Members range from those with a limited musical background to those with many years of choral experience and considerable musical expertise. They range in age from the 20s into the 80s and come from all walks of life. Those having special musical skills and expertise such as conducting, arranging, etc. will in all likelihood be asked to contribute those skills for the benefit of the organization.
For prospective members, a simple, informal "audition" is used to assess voice quality and section placement. In instances where there is some question about the "fit" of a prospective member in the choir, such individuals will be referred to the Artistic Director for consultation regarding their musical futures with Sons of Orpheus.
Joining Sons of Orpheus can be a somewhat daunting experience. There is a complex organization to understand, new people to get to know, and new music to master. To help candidates make an informed choice about joining the chorus, Sons has instituted a mentoring program. At the start of the new season, each prospective member is paired with a veteran member as his mentor. The major responsibilities of the mentor are: 1) to help the prospective member learn about Sons and develop reasonable expectations for his experience with the choir, and 2) to enable the fully informed new member to integrate into the culture of the choir as quickly as possible. "Learning the ropes" from a seasoned member can make the task of deciding about membership, and then finding one's place in the organization much easier.
Following is a summary of expectations that a prospective member needs to have about his participation in Sons of Orpheus.
The projected annual budget for the 2006–07 Sons of Orpheus season is approximately $45,000. The main sources of income are: performance fees and ticket sales, grants (Arizona Commission for the Arts and Tucson Pima Arts Council), special projects (e.g., rummage sale), and member dues. Other sources include donations, CD sales, and gifts from members and supporters.
The main expenses of the organization are paying our Director, accompanists and guest soloists; marketing and production costs for the choir and its concerts; buying and reproducing music; the rental of rehearsal and performance space; insurance; and bookkeeping and tax services.
Membership in Sons of Orpheus may be tax deductible. Consult your accountant.
The approved budget is provided to members near the beginning of the new season. Then financial statements are provided two times per year: at the end of December and at the end of the season. These statements detail the specific sources of income and categories of expense that reflect the financial status of the organization.
Decisions about the expenditure of organizational funds are made by the Executive Committee under the supervision of our Board of Directors. No member should purchase or contract to purchase items for Sons of Orpheus without prior approval by the Executive Committee.
The Sons of Orpheus organization is composed of a general policy-making Board of Directors, the Artistic Director, a Music Committee, Sectional Leaders and Associate Sectional Leaders, a number of Action Teams made up from the membership that handle the day-to-day functioning of the organization, and an Executive Committee. In general, the Artistic Director is responsible for the "music" aspects of the organization, and the Executive Committee is responsible for the "non-music" aspects of the organization that support and facilitate the "music" aspects.
Board of Directors:
The Board of Directors is made up of individuals from the community who provide leadership in bringing about broad-based support for the organization. In addition to being a general policy making group and the governing body of the organization, the Board has responsibility for major fund raising efforts, and for organizational and facility development. Board members are expected to be active in their involvement with Sons of Orpheus. The Offices of the Board of Directors are: President, Vice President, and Secretary/Treasurer. The choir's Founder/Artistic Director and the Chairman of the Executive Committee also are Board members.
The major responsibilities of the Artistic Director include:
The primary decision making body of Sons of Orpheus is the Executive Committee comprised of the Artistic Director, the Section Leaders, the Secretary, the Treasurer, and two (2) choir members elected annually from among the senior members (minimum of 1 year in choir) of the chorus. This committee provides overall direction and support to the existing programs and the future plans of the organization. It also coordinates the work of the Action Teams and other ad hoc committees and has the final authority for decision-making regarding those non-musical aspects of the organization not assumed by the Board. Open two-way communication between the Executive Committee and the various Action Teams is essential to the effective organizational and artistic development of Sons of Orpheus. All projects undertaken by Orpheus will have a clearly designated Action Team or ad hoc leader to successfully spearhead the project to completion.
The Executive Committee holds monthly meetings that are open to all members who are interested in the organization's planning and committee activities.
Treasurer (Executive Committee):
The responsibilities of the Executive Committee's treasurer include:
Financial Secretary (Executive Committee):
The responsibilities of the Executive Committee's financial secretary include:
Secretary (Executive Committee):
The key responsibilities of the Executive Committee's secretary include:
The Music Committee is comprised of the Artistic Director and up to four additional choir members who are selected by the Executive Committee. The responsibilities of the Music Committee include:
The responsibilities of the choir's librarian include:
Each section (Tenor I, Tenor II, Baritone, Bass) has a Section Leader and Associate Section Leader. Their responsibilities include:
The tasks inherent in making and keeping the organization vital and efficient require broad based involvement and participation on the part of the membership of Sons of Orpheus. The following Action Team structure is designed to implement member involvement and active participation. Each Action Team is headed by a two person co-chair spearheading the activities of the Team. On an "ad hoc" basis it may be necessary to draw in additional members of the organization to deal with specific projects. Action Team members are identified based on their interests and skills. The specific Action Teams and their respective duties are identified below.
Newsletter (Voice of Orpheus):
Fundraising (major efforts by Board, projects by men include):
Recruitment, Membership and Wellness:
Concerts and Tours:
Although serious about generating top-flight performances, Sons of Orpheus maintains a friendly, easy-going, playful atmosphere. Modeled by the Director who has a delightful sense of humor, members enjoy themselves and each other. A sense of camaraderie exists among members that stimulates an atmosphere of brotherhood.
The continued cultivation of an "our choir" orientation is essential to the future evolution and maturation of Sons of Orpheus. Fostering a spirit of ownership and involvement in the organization by members leads to cooperative, collaborative efforts which in turn contribute to making Sons of Orpheus the best it can be both artistically and organizationally.
With Sons of Orpheus recent growth in membership, it has become increasingly difficult for choir members to get to know each other well. In addition, members' spouses, partners, and family members who lend support to the efforts of Sons in a variety of indirect ways, need to have ways and means of getting to know other members of the Orpheus family. To respond to these needs, Sons organizes four social gatherings per season: one in the early fall welcoming new members, a Christmas party, a party following the Balalaika concerts, and a season end party following the Spring Gala concert. In addition, other gatherings of a less formal nature are created in response to the wishes of the membership.
As a means of more directly involving members' spouses and significant others in Sons related activities, an auxiliary has been developed. Members of the auxiliary have responsibility for helping with advertising, ticket sales, concession sales, cassette and CD sales, organizing of social events, and other tasks supporting the organization and its programs.
The Future of Sons of Orpheus:
For Additional Information: If you would like to learn more about Sons of Orpheus, you can:
To send us comments or questions about Sons of Orpheus,