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April 24, 2011

Choir Dogs

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I’ve been waiting for the traffic on my last blog to slow down before I posted another.  I don’t know if it delivered all that it promised, but “Sex and Betrayal at the OK Chorale” sure got a lot of hits. (www.elenalouiserichmond.com/2011/04/851/)

If that’s what it takes—a racy title—I was toying with the idea of calling this blog “Easter Debauchery” but that would be cynically misleading.  It’s just that I feel debauched.  Holidays are exhausting for musicians and florists.  By Christmas Day I don’t want to have brunch or dinner or see anyone or ever get out of bed.  If you polled members of both professions, you would probably find a shocking lack of reverence around Easter. And this year with Easter coming so late, working with the church choir has felt like one of the U.S.’s endless election seasons.

But it had its fun moments. Last February I introduced the choir to a couple of pieces that I thought would be good for Easter morning.  One called “Resucitό,” is a dramatic Spanish language piece in a Flamenco style.  We struggled with it for months. Finally I took out the most awkward verse.  Literally.  I whited it out and made copies of the redacted music so as to eliminate confusion. We worked on the elisions which the Spanish speakers in our little group had more trouble with than those of us with grade school Spanish whose pronunciation was never pristine to start with.  Just thinking about the effort makes me want to sleep until August.

The other piece was called “Oh, What Beauty, Lord, Appears.”  Or as Chris, the unclassifiable except that she owns three Chinooks and is a great tenor, called it: “Oh-comma-what-beauty-comma-lord-comma-appears.”  The attraction of this piece is that the text is set to music of Mozart and arranged in a Mozartean style, evocative of powdered wigs and candelabras.  I referred to it as “The Mozart.”  It was difficult but I knew it would be satisfying to learn.

The two pieces were just coming together when two rehearsals before Easter, Marvin showed up.   Marvin is a Min Pin—a miniature Pinscher—and the comfort dog of a woman in the church named Karen.  Karen is another good tenor but we hadn’t seen her all year.  I don’t know why she up and decided to come to choir rehearsal two weeks before Easter, but she chose an evening when Starfire, the Chinook, fresh from Shy Dog Class was already there with Chris to practice her social skills.  Starfire was practicing her social skills, not Chris.  Chris has been in the army.

Little Marvin was swathed in a fur cape with an orange hood to protect him from the cold.  Karen had added beaded tassels to the hood and flaps of leather festooned with pirate heads to the cape.  Marvin almost disappears inside this regalia except for his little legs that scurry him around.

I was already feeding dog biscuits to Starry who was blissed out under the piano bench.  Marvin joined the picnic.  The doggie activity that night was more to my tastes than the mounting frenzy around preparations for the Easter morning service which had begun to feel like the atmosphere around my mother on Thanksgiving morning. (http://www.elenalouiserichmond.com/2010/11/thanksgiving-day-circa-1965/)

As far as Marvin was concerned, Easter morning church was no different than Tuesday evening rehearsal.  There I was, the cookie lady, and he expected treats.  Everyone else in the church got an Easter egg, compliments of the kids so why not Marvin?  I had dog biscuits lined up on the music rack and at the end of every verse of “Resucitό,” I swept another onto the floor for him.

The last chorus of the dramatic Spanish anthem was sung a capella.  I hit the first chord, then maneuvered my way from the piano, through the   sopranos and our lone alto so I could direct the ending.  I looked up at this tiny choir that I have worked with for four years. There they stood, looking like a street gang, the Sharks in formation, thundering “Re-su-ci-tό” with little Marvin dancing around everyone’s legs, a little ballerina in a tutu.  The very image makes me smile.

The Mozart came off just as beautifully.  The operative concept for Mozart is “grace.”  There were a couple of rests in the music adequate for gracefully flicking dog biscuits onto the floor.   It was very satisfying.

I think Marvin is probably a soprano but we are fully stocked with those.  We need more altos.  I may audition Starfire.

Marvin the Magnificent

 

 

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