I’m Goin’ Up Yonder

Chameleon Blog


“More than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death. It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years.” (taken from an article by Carlos Miller of The Arizona Republic on www.azcentral.com) Commonly known to Americans as the Day of the Dead, it is a mostly Mexican tradition honoring the lives of those who have gone before.  Dia de los Muertos.  It coincides on November 1st and 2nd with the Catholic holidays known as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, which eventually turned into Halloween.


Choral Chameleon will not be setting up ritualistic altars with skulls and bones, or laying down the deceased’s favorite foods across the floor of 4th U, but we will be singing songs that are centered around the subject of human mortality. 8531_140225922018_36910037018_3116638_6644552_n


In having a conversation with model, singer and visual artist Leigh Trifari (of the Choral Chameleon alto section) I realized that many of us in the group have lost loved ones recently, which makes this concert especially precious and personal to our ensemble and to its audience.  I asked Leigh to share some thoughts on how the November 1st concert is going to touch her life. 


Leigh Trifari: “For me, it is a way to honor the dead, both known and unknown (but especially those near and dear to me). When I say Halloween is my “favorite holiday”, what I really mean is that it is a MAJOR holiday in my personal faith (not unlike Yom Kippur in another faith). In spite of being a massive candy fest these days, I believe that Halloween marks that time when nights grow long, and shadows cast themselves on my light and my spirit.  I enter “the dark months” and not until February do I generally feel a return to light. Because my birthday falls on the Spring Equinox, I feel especially tied to the solar calendar and I am very sensitive to the changing of the seasons.

October is a time of introspection and solitude (while Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s all clamor for my attention). Not to be morbid or anything, but the flip of life is death, and death (even symbolic death) is inevitable and necessary. I have experienced “near death”, cried and mourned the passing of thousands of deaths on 9/11, survived my own brush with death and watched my father battle his own fear of dying in a hospital ward.”


Last month, my grandmother and my uncle died within a couple of weeks of each other.  I had 24 hours to fly from New York to Iowa, go to my grandma’s funeral, spend the night with my family, and return back to New York the following morning.  While saddened by her death, I was so busy while it happened that I never really thought much about it.  I made the travel plans and figured it would all be over before I knew it. 


As I drove the rental car from the airport to the funeral, I suddenly started to remember things about Grandma Feltz I hadn’t thought about for years.  Childhood memories began to resurface, and I felt myself welling up with tears as I looked out at the Iowa landscape, Grandma Feltz’s homeland as long as she lived.  As I drove, I realized that the reason I was so caught up in the sadness of everything was because I was listening to a song that talks about someone dying.  It’s a Rachael Yamagata song called, “Little Life.” 


With my grandma, JoAnn Feltz in 1990.

Lyrics: When all of this makes the news

Will they remember to tell it right

Or will devils make off in the night

Can you tell me why I got so high as I was flying?

As she lays in bed in her piece of ground

Will they remember her blessed soul

Or just that she lost all control

Can you tell me why she had to die alone?

And people wake up, people get moving

There’s a life waiting here

Get up, people start doing

There’s a life waiting here


When all our time spent away

We remember the loves of our past

Or just that love never lasts

Can you tell me why this little life goes so fast?

I then realized how powerful music is to express emotion, particularly that which we tend to contain and bottle within ourselves.  There is no other outlet than music to directly confront unspoken, lingering human conditions.   I got out of my rental car, and headed inside the church to my grandmother’s funeral.  Instantly when I walked into the church, I saw her corpse in the coffin, right in the lobby of the church. I froze, I was stunned. I didn’t expect to see her dead body before I even got to say hello to my family. That image has not left my mind for the past three weeks, and I’ve rarely spoken of it to anyone.  Who wants to hear about death, about pain, about feeling scared, or weak and insignificant? 

It’s of great importance to have outlets where people can express themselves, and where people can come to terms with death.  You can’t go to a funeral and expect to have achieved closure by the time the funeral is over.  It’s an ongoing thing, dealing with death.  Why not use music to explore the perplexing puzzle of death? Why not achieve some sense of closure and healing through celebrating life, one “concert” at a time?


In a recent publicity meeting I attended, the question was asked, “How are you going to describe your choir to a publicist to get them interested?” I found it to be an excellent question, for I always think of the quote “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”  (Somehow, my music theory professors never seemed to share the sentiment) How can you explain innovation to someone?  How can you explain beautiful, sonic harmonies that touch the soul?  How can you explain an ensemble filled with people who have suffered personal tragedies and the loss of loved ones, who then turn that energy around to create an uplifting, profound choral experience that speaks to the very heart of human nature, to the very questions of life and death that have perplexed humanity since the dawn of time?  This concert is more than just a choir concert.  It’s a conversation, a question.  It’s a musical ellipsis on death.  


Leigh Trifari At Peekskill's Annual "Open Studios" 2008. Photo by Cathi Locati.



As Leigh Trifari says, “Life is worth LIVING, because it’s too short, and we deserve to be happy and satisfied for the brief time we are here on this earth.”






The Choral Chameleon blog is maintained by Andrew Cook-Feltz, baritone and Singer Representative (ex-officio) to the board.


Choral Chameleon Artist Profile: Katie Zaffrann

Chameleon BlogSoprano Katie Zaffrann, Choral Chameleon’s founding (and largely irreplaceable) President offers us this rousing look into her performance career.

Katie Zaffrann is a versatile performing artist and arts administrator dedicated to promoting the human spirit through performance.

She has performed throughout New York City in numerous concerts, workshops and readings, as well as in Personal Space Theatrics’ hit productions of A Christmas Carol at The Barrow Group.  Classical stage experience includes a summer season at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass. and a national tour performing in two-actor versions of Alice in Wonderland and an educational Shakespeare production for kids.

She also sings with indie rock/electronica group Little Grey Girlfriend and can be heard on their live set on Breakthru Radio.

Katie holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Syracuse University, where she was the recipient of the Edward Greer Award for Classic Acting for her performance as Olivia in Twelfth Night.  She studies voice in New York City with Ruth Williams Hennessy and coaches with VP Boyle, and has also trained classically at Shakespeare & Co. and at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, England.

Visit her online at http://katiezaffrann.com.

Katie, what are you currently up to outside of Choral Chameleon?

I will be performing this Christmas in Miracle on 34th Street at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, Long Island.  It’s actually my first full production in nearly two years, and I’m really excited.  I’m also in the process of building my online presence at katiezaffrann.com … and I have some things up my sleeve for 2010.  You’ll just have to subscribe to my RSS feed or my mailing list to find out what they are!

Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?

I’m not sure I can pick a favorite!  I have so many I like that I have a rotating quote section on the front page of my new website.  But if I had to choose one for the moment, it would be:

“Perfection is static, and we are in full progress.”  — anais nin

Why do you enjoy being a member of Choral Chameleon?

I remember when I was in my freshman year of acting school, and a junior-level musical theater class performed a group number for the rest of the department.  I heard the ensemble parts and remarked to myself how none of them were actually singing WITH each other — they were a bunch of soloists singing at the same time.  Singing with Chameleon is the first time since my formative choral years in high school where I’ve been able to experience that indescribable, irreplaceable HUMAN spark of voices blending and making music together.  I love the varied backgrounds of everyone in the group, and the way we focus all those individual voices into one beautiful tone.  It feeds me in a way that none of my other artistic ventures do.

What would you say to a person who is “on the fence” about coming to a Choral Chameleon concert?

Leave any preconceived notions of “choral music” at the door and come share this experience with us!

The Choral Chameleon blog is a human effort on the part of Andrew Cook-Feltz, baritone and Singer Representative to the board (ex-officio)

“Happy Phantom” A Unique Take On Death

Original artwork by Marc Bovino

Original artwork by Marc Bovino

At the Day of the Dead concert on November 1st at 5pm,  Choral Chameleon will be singing a choral arrangement (created by artistic director Vince Peterson) of Tori Amos’ “Happy Phantom” from her 1992 debut album Little Earthquakes.  This song is often described as the only song on Tori’s landmark album that is remotely upbeat or cheerful.  And yet, the song is about being dead.



And if I die today I’ll be the happy phantom
And I’ll go chasing the nuns out in the yard
And I’ll run naked through the streets without my mask on
And I will never need umbrellas in the rain
I’ll wake up in strawberry fields everday
And the atrocities of school I can forgive
The happy phantom has no right to bitch

Oo who- the time is getting closer
Oo who- time to be a ghost
Oo who- every day were getting closer
The sun is getting dim
Will we pay for who we’ve been?

So if I die today I’ll be the happy phantom
And I’ll go wearing my naughties like a jewel
They’ll be my ticket to the universal opera
There’s Judy Garland taking Buddha by the hand
And then these seven little men get up to dance
They say Confucius does his crossword with a pen
I’m still the angel to the girl who hates to sin

Oo who- the time is getting closer
Oo who- the time to be a ghost
Oo who- every day were getting closer
The sun is getting dim
Will I pay for who I’ve been?

Or will I see you dear and wish I could come back
You found a girl that you could truly love again
Will you still call for me when she falls asleep
Or do we soon forget the things we cannot see?

Oo who- the time is getting closer
Oo who- the time to be a ghost
Oo who- every day were getting closer
The sun is getting dim
Will I pay for who I’ve been?


Everyone has a theory or belief system about what happens when we die.  And yet, so many of us fear death more than anything else in this world.  What really happens when we’re gone?  What is the afterlife?  Is there an afterlife?  Tori Amos has created a context in which death is more than something to look forward to- it’s going to be more fun than anything we’ve seen in our earthly existence.

It’s a great concept.  And when the 20 members of Choral Chameleon share it with an audience, people will be transformed.

Choral Chameleon Artist Profile: Andrew Cook-Feltz

ACF, baritone singer in Choral Chameleon and its board’s Singer Representative, sat down with himself for this in-depth and candid interview of musical bliss.


Andrew Cook-Feltz was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa in a musical family:  his mother a piano teacher, his father a counselor and skilled musician, and his brother a gifted child composer/pianist/musician.  Andrew (ACF) attributes his near-perfect pitch to his mother’s piano students practicing scales while he was in the womb.  In fact, while pregnant with him, Andrew’s mother’s water broke during a piano lesson.

 After high school, he moved to Iowa City and studied vocal music performance, earning a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Iowa in 2005.  He went on to pursue a Masters degree from Bowling Green State University, where he had a full scholarship and a teaching assistantship.  Andrew received a Master of Music degree from BGSU in 2007. It was at BGSU where he met Justin Randolph (baritone singer with Chameleon).  Andrew was actually Justin’s understudy for the role of Papageno in Die Zauberflöte and sang in the same voice studio as Justin.

 Opera performance credits include Marquis de la Force in Dialogues des Carmélites, Aeneas in Dido And Aeneas, Sweeney Todd from Sweeney Todd in an Opera Scenes Gala, The Page in Amahl And The Night Visitors, understudy to Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Marcello from La Boheme in an Opera Scenes Gala,  as well as other operatic stage roles in Die Zauberflöte, The Pirates Of Penzance, La Cenerentola, Carmen, and Die Fledermaus.  Choral solos include Empire City Men’s Chorus at the premiere of David Del Tredeci’s Queer Hosannas, University of Iowa Choruses’ Elijah with the UI Symphony Orchestra, and solos at Park Avenue Christian Church and the Temple of Universal Judaism in New York. Andrew received a full vocal scholarship to Bowling Green State University, and was recipient of the Charles Lindsley Vocal Scholarship at the University of Iowa.  

On October 18, 2009, Andrew kicked off Park Avenue Christian Church’s new music series Arts at the Park in a duet recital with soprano Audrey Snyder.

At his first ever audition, Mr. Cook-Feltz was cast in his high school’s production of Grease as Danny Zuko.  The ego has stuck.


What do you like about singing with Choral Chameleon?

I always have a blast at rehearsal.  The music we sing is so powerful and gorgeous, & the people are hilarious, talented geniuses… so it’s hard not to have a great time.  I am always excited to go to rehearsal, and uplifted on my way home.


Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?

“Often out of periods of losing come the greatest strivings toward a new winning streak.”  -Fred Rogers


Tell us about a favorite song Choral Chameleon has performed:

“Sempiterna” by composer-in-residence Jeffrey Parola.  We’re singing this at our Nov. 1st concert.  Something about this piece speaks to me in a direct and captivating way.  I find it brutally honest, beautiful, and intense.


Someone invited your friends to a Choral Chameleon concert and they all said, “I’m not sure if I can make it.”  Can you change their maybe to a yes?

As a frequent “mayber” in the world when it comes to RSVPing for shows, I must say that Choral Chameleon is a must-see! (And a must-hear!)  We are breaking down the paradigm of choral music and making it a more accessible, fresh, enjoyable experience.  We are to choral music what Pixar is to animated motion pictures.


ACF maintains this blog, and created his bio for it, too.  Photographers never get to be in the picture… but ACF likes the spotlight.

Choral Chameleon Artist Profile: Gates Thomas

Gates Thomas is a composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist and recording producer whose credits include work with Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Jim Hall, Will Lee, John Scofield, Paula Cole, Sadao Watanabe, the New American Orchestra of Chicago, and the a cappella group M*PACT. 

Gates grew up in Davenport, IA, where he attended public schools and took his first piano lessons at age five — the repertoire was Beatles, Bacharach and Jobim — then started on violin in the fourth grade. He studied violin, composition and earned a B.A. in American History at Northwestern University, and was a Lawrence and Alma Berk Scholar at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Later he served as Assistant Professor of Contemporary Music Writing and Production at Berklee, and founded the versatile vocal-and-rhythm group Viridian. He has presented master classes and clinics in Rome, Toronto, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Antonio, Boston, Cleveland, and Atlanta

In his spare time Gates reads and writes about American history and politics; he keeps a copy of The Constitution of the United States on hand at all times. He speaks fluent Portuguese and performs Brazilian pop standards with his group The Bandidos.

Gates is a tenor in Choral Chameleon, and as he is originally from Iowa like I am, his heritage warmly enhances the Choral Chameleon blend.

The Choral Chameleon blog is maintained by Andrew Cook-Feltz, baritone and singer representative to the board.

Choral Chameleon Artist Profile: Scott Morwitz

Scott Morwitz grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, where he received his BFA in Vocal Performance from Carnegie Mellon University.  He began performing in school musicals and still loves musical theater more than anything.  Scott has been fortunate enough to be continually involved in choral singing for most of his life since high school, most notably performing with The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra several times as a member of the city’s Mendelssohn Choir.

After moving to New York in 2006, it was a while before Scott found a church singing position. There, he met Vince Peterson, the artistic director of Choral Chameleon.  This meeting continues to lead to additional opportunities to sing throughout the city.  At the moment the biggest “upcoming engagement” that Scott has is paying his rent, which happens to take a great deal of time and energy away from his pursuit of his performance career, but things are only getting better and opportunities more plentiful!

Scott is a tenor in Choral Chameleon.


Scott, what’s so great about singing with Choral Chameleon?

First, the thing I love about singing with any good group…that feeling in your chest when everyone is in tune and singing strongly together.  Second, of course, is the fact that everyone in the group is good.  It is the same feeling I got when I sang with District Chorus and when I went to CMU – the feeling that everyone wants to be there.


Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?

 I like quotes so I’m sharing two:

“The more you learn about what you know is the more you know there’s a lot more to know about what you thought you knew.” – Scott Morwitz

“And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in the bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin.   (Andrew Cook-Feltz really likes this quote- thanks for sharing!)


Tell us about a favorite song Choral Chameleon has performed:

“Somewhere I have Never Traveled” by Julian Wachner.  I definitely teared up a bit when we performed that one!


What sayeth thee to someone who is on-the-fence about coming to a Choral Chameleon concert?

This is a group that really honors choral music.  You will feel the warmth and commitment that each of us has to the music and the words.  If you are not a regular attendee of “classical” music concerts, please come with an open mind.  This is music for the people.  Let the words wash over you and appreciate the unique experience that only multiple voices, singing in cooperation, can provide.