Thursday, December 25, 2008

Amahl and the Night Visitors

Subtitle: Can you spot the orange Canadian?

This Christmas season was made interesting in part by my participation in First Pres's production of Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. I told a couple of people I was playing Shepherdess #12 - that was a lie. I didn't even get a number. But I was a proud chorus member and part of a "family" with a husband and daughter (who were actually father and daughter; I was the only fake in the group).

Amahl is the story of a young shepherd boy in vaguely Biblical circumstances. He lives with his widowed mother in a poor shack; they are in desperate straights and may soon starve. He is crippled and uses a crutch. Then one night the three kings drop in on their way to Bethlehem, following the star.

There is no food in the house so Amahl's mother (Menotti didn't grace her with a name) sends him to find the shepherds in the fields and have them bring food for the kings. That's where me and my fake family come in. All the shepherds arrive with a feast for the kings, and sing and dance for them.

After they've gone and night has fallen, the desperate mother tries to steal a bit of the kings' gold (i.e. the counterpart to the frankincense and myrrh) to feed her starving child. The kings' paige raises the alarm and there is a scuffle, and then King Melchior sings really a lovely song about how she can keep the gold because the child they seek will build his kingdom not on gold but on... um... the raising of the poor, I think, or on love or something equally altruistic (I'm always backstage at that point). So the mother says 'I've waited for that kind of king all my life' and gives back the gold, and Amahl wants to get in on the giving too but all he has is his crutch, his only possession.

And I won't spoil it by telling you what happens next!

It was a beautiful production, with the high production values typical of First Pres. Ken did a beautiful job leading the music and there was a real orchestra. There was a troupe of young people who did a choreographed dance (many of them in my youth choir - I'm so proud) and lots of people said we were the best Amahl chorus they'd ever heard. It's that Shepherdess #12, I'm telling you.

I think Amahl as a play has become dated and I'm not sure I would want to put it on. A famous line comes when Amahl tells his mother there are three kings at the door - "and one of them is black." The supposedly Middle-Eastern shepherds enter singing solid British names out to each other; "Caroline, Caroline, Matthew, Veronica, give me your hand come along with me." Aside from that, I just don't think the "poor wretched crippled boy" thing plays anymore.

I remember being really, really moved by the show when I first saw it. I was about 11, and my friends Theresa (longtime Ontario Youth Choir friend of my mom's) and her son Adrian, who is my age, played the two main roles. So, they were actually mother and son, and they are both wickedly good - it was just really great. (Funnily enough I don't even remember the shepherds from that production... except maybe that twelfth one...) So I think any other production would automatically pale in comparison. But all the main singers were excellent; I really enjoyed the kings especially. The set was beautiful and our costumes were well done. I do want to note, however, that I was NOT in charge of the makeup. They got a little intense on us and most of us came out looking like citrus fruit. We even had to makeup our ankles with this very serious foundation that would not quit - four days later I swear some of it is still on my feet. The person in charge of the makeup works for Mary Kay (enough said; and by the way did you know that Mary Kay started in Dallas?)

David got in on the fun too; he did one of the follow spots. It was a little crazy to be doing this a couple of days before Christmas (our performances were December 20, 21 and 22) but hey - we hardly know anybody in Dallas so we didn't have much else to do! It was a fun and beautiful thing to be a part of. Someone at church even told me that she loved watching me and I'm a really good actress! Way to go, Shepherdess #12.

Note the expert follow-spot work courtesy of David Kopulos.

Melchior doing his thing; more expert follow-spot stylings.

Enjoy these pics! Wish you could have been there to see it!

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Are there any more you can sing to 'Yellow Rose of Texas'?"

The great thing about your Master's degree is the more personal relationship you get to form with your professors. They aren't just lecturers; they're mentors and colleagues. You can have a conversation with them, get to know them... party with them!

(Okay lame setup; sorry. End-of-term punchiness.)

Here are a few pictures from our end-of-term shindig at Dr. Anderson's house. All the MSMs and spouses came out to have some mulled wine, apple cider and... Sonny Bryan's authentic Texan BBQ. It was a fun night, and I was a hit with my appetizer à la Aunt Jane in Sudbury. Although, it was a near disaster - mom had written to me earlier in the day with the recipe but had said to put one large or two small cloves in the cream cheese. She sent two frantic emails and even made a long-distance call to make sure I knew it was cloves of garlic, not cloves. That would have been a really weird appetizer... luckily, I did know the recipe well enough that I had assumed she meant garlic. (If you are finding this report trivial... I think you're on the wrong blog.)

A little tired from the end of term!

Do not adjust your set; twin Catholic Louisianan organists.

Darnell sat down in the middle and put his arms around them and Nick (on the left) looked confused and everybody laughed... and it is all preserved for posterity right here on my blog.

So, we had a great time relaxing together, profs and all, and capped it off with some caroling in the neighbourhood. We were lead by Dr. Anderson's cutie daughter, who was dressed appropriately for the occasion. She had apparently gone around earlier in the day to leave notes at people's houses telling (warning) them we were coming.

In true Dr. Hawn fashion, it was a very special brand of carolling; we sang all of our songs to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Joy to the World; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear; even Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer - all to a tune which everybody (excluding two confused Canadians) knew beforehand and which I now will never forget. We of course had a little rehearsal beforehand. Dr. Hawn corrected a wrong note in the melody; Chelsea asked if we could count sing; Tyler requested to go through the tune to the syllable "do"... Ulston asked how you spell "do". I know; we're a hilarious bunch. Consider also that all of these carols were accompanied by Dr. Hawn's accordion. This being Texas, I was pretty much convinced we were going to be chased off at least one property with a shotgun.

It was a fun night and a great way to cap off the term. I also got to see Dr. Anderson's beautiful house organ; I knew you would want to see it so I carefully documented it. I had never heard of a house organ before coming to Perkins, and now I know two or three people who have one. It's all the rage, really.

Now, two exams and one cold later, I am done for the term! First term of my Master's degree is all wrapped up - I'm ready for a nap. ;)

Lessons and Carols

A big Advent tradition at Perkins is the Lessons and Carols service put on jointly by the Seminary Singers (Dr. Hawn at the helm) and Meadows Chorale (led by Dr. Elrod, my conducting professor). We've been preparing most of the term for this big service which is done twice, in the afternoon and evening. It's a tradition of the Seminary Singers to have a dinner together in between services, with a white-elephant gift exchange. It was a beautiful service filled with eclectic music. We sang a very cool arrangement of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", a little bit "blue Christmas", with added soprano sax. We also did a beautiful setting of one of John Thornburg's texts, "Look Up at the Stars" - not even published yet. In fact - the copies we were singing from had DO NOT COPY splashed across the front in huge grey letters. Apparently we actually did have permission to sing from the photocopies, but... we started calling the piece "The Big Do Not Copy" whenever it was time to turn to it.

We also did Hope for Resolution, which David and I remember from BCC days. It blends "Of the Father's Love Begotten" with a Xosa melody. We had to do one of those "clicks" in the language... that caused much hilarity during practice as we were rather terrible at it. People would either drop it completely, or sort of half get it but it wouldn't sound like much... one time I heard someone come in with it about half a bar after the fact... ha ha. We were pretty good at it by the end, though! Dr. Hawn had it all worked out that the soprano sax would come back in with the hymn tune as we sang the African... then we'd come to a hummed major chord at the end... and the soprano sax would throw in the first two phrases of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" over it, in the minor mode... oooOOoohh....
The Meadows Chorale also sounded beautiful, and did a variety of pieces as well. My favourite though (no bias) was Eleanor Daley's piece "The World's Desire"... ooh and there was also a gorgeous setting of "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming." The Seminary Singers were up at the front this year, and the Meadows Chorale were in the balcony at the back. This was a big deal; apparently this was the Seminary Singers' first turn up front. People were joking about not being able to wear their comfy shoes this time.

Of course, this was all happening amid the very end of term, when we were all going crazy with papers, tests and performances. Here's Nick looking a little done in by the term.

The dinner in between was delicious, and we had a hilarious time with the gift exchange. I hadn't done one of these before; you're supposed to pick a piece of miscellaneous clutter from your home and giftwrap it. Then you take turns picking, and laughing at the tackiness or bizarreness of each re-gifted item. Of course, someone inevitably throws in some chocolates or a bottle of wine. So, the next person gets to decide if they want to take a new gift, or steal someone else's already opened gift. I actually got a very nice book out of it; have a look at what David got (it plays music and "dances"). Ulston scored the bottle of wine.

It's so fun having David singing in the choir. People were allowed to bring spouses to the dinner and there were various "hangers on" present - but David's part of the club!


Toward the end of the Fall Term here we get a very welcome break in the form of American Thanksgiving! David enjoyed a really, really quiet dorm and a hiatus from campus construction as we stayed on campus over this long weekend. Thanksgiving here is celebrated on Thursday, and different amounts of the surrounding week are holidays - I hear some schools get the week off; we got Thursday and Friday.

Ken and Mary-Jane Cooper at First Pres very kindly invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner. This was our first opportunity to see their house, and we got to hang out with some "strays" from the choir whom Ken and Mary-Jane adopt at Thanksgiving. We also got to meet their cat... uh... gee, I can't remember their cat's name. I guess all cats' names pale in comparison to my organ professor Larry Palmer's cat's name, "Wailf (waif) Vaughan Williams."

We had a very delicious turkey dinner with all the Thanksgiving extras, including apple AND cherry pie (complete with lattice top). The Coopers have a warm home and Mary-Jane loves pottery, so we got to eat and drink from some lovely hand-crafted pottery from their various travels. We shared cultural stories, i.e. Northern vs. Southern United States, and U.S. vs. Canada (not to mention the equally comparable Texas vs. the rest of the U.S.) I told them about Due South and we compared accents from various places. Ken and Mary Jane have a cute white table cloth that they have people sign at the end of the meal with a marker, and then someone needlepoints the signatures onto the cloth. There were signatures in two different colours of thread from previous years. I signed my name and drew a Canadian flag - David berated my drawing skills (par for the course).

In this picture we are standing in front of a clock that was given to the Coopers by a member of the church. This woman was important in the community and left an endowment when she passed away. Half of that endowment goes to help the Stewpot mission (the meal kitchen run seven days a week by the church); the other half helps the music program, including my intern stipend. It was nice to learn about her since David and I are benefiting from her legacy.

A couple of days later, our friend John Thornburg took us out to explore White Rock Lake, which is a public park and lake not far from SMU campus. It used to be the main hydro source for the city, but of course now the city is much too large for that and several artifical lakes have been built. John also drove us through some residential neighbourhoods, including past a small church where he used to serve. That area is one of the oldest residential neighbourhoods and used to be suburban Dallas; the homes look very '50s, a little like the Beaches. It was a nice spot to see, contrasting with the megahomes of Highland Park and University Park right around our campus; but, you could see one or two "blockbusters" on each street marking the changing real estate tastes.

Lots of ducks!

I haven't been blogging much lately - it's been quite an end of term! I can officially say I am done now though, and can catch up a bit. My marks are coming in and I'm passing! ;)

P.S., I just remembered the cat's name: Cheech. He's a rescue cat; I don't think we know where Chong is.