from Jeff Parola’s Blog (Re-Posted Here)…On CC’s Performance 4/18

Last night marked an important moment in my life and career, as my oratorio, Such Beautiful Things, was brought into the world through a stunning premiere performance by Vince Peterson’s Choral Chameleon in New York City. Joined by Choral Chameleon was Christina Borgioli (soprano), Colleen Coussinat (mezzo-soprano), Kannan Vasudevan (tenor), Christopher DeVage (baritone), and Brad Whiteley & Jason Wirth (pianists).

The house was fuller than expected, and extra rows of chairs were added just minutes ahead of the performance to accommodate the large crowd. At the end of the performance, the audience burst into applause, and immediately rose to their feet in a standing ovation.

The performers certainly deserved the accolades. The choir fully embodied the dramatic nature of their role(s), and communicated each and every note, gesture, and sentiment masterfully. The soloists blew away the audience with their gorgeous sound and range of expression. The pianists were hard at work for the entire duration of the hour-long piece, and did it with jaw-dropping artistry and technical facility.

None of this would have been possible without Vince Peterson, whose remarkable artistic vision served as the impetus for the project. Nor would the piece have been so successful were it not for Tony Asaro, whose masterpiece-of-a-libretto inspired every note of the oratorio. His gift of prose and theatrical intuition is nothing short of genius.

A million thanks to the fantastic audience for being a part of last night’s premiere, and for the openness and enthusiasm with which the piece was received. I would also like to thank Choral Chameleon’s board, donors, and patrons for all of the time, energy, and resources they’ve invested in the group, and for making all of this happen.

I am utterly and eternally grateful for the work of each and every artist involved in the performance. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Choral Chameleon, Vince, Tony, Christina, Colleen, Kannan, Christopher, Brad, and Jason!

If inside your open ear,
There’s an open heart and mind there,
Then you will clearly hear
Such beautiful things.

(from the very last lines of Such Beautiful Things)

Jeff Parola Writes about “Such Beautiful Things”

Last year, in the spring of ’09, Vince played with a few thematic ideas for the upcoming April 18 concert. By then, he had chosen Conrad’s Susa’s Hymns for the Amusement of Children, and used that piece as the concert’s thematic impetus. For my composition, we considered using other texts by Christopher Smart, until Vince found the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Traveling Musicians. He thought the fairy tale element would fit in well with the “children” component of the concert, and might be feasibly turned into an extended choral work. The idea immediately grabbed me, but I thought the text was too narration-heavy to set to music, and I suggested that it be transformed into a libretto. Vince called librettist Tony Asaro, and the rest is history.

What I love most about the Brothers Grimm tale is the universality of its central message: the imperative to value, accept, and appreciate citizens who are wrongly viewed as useless, lesser, irrelevant, which is a timeless theme when relating to social issues. It was especially meaningful for me to work on the piece during the current economic crisis, since art institutions and programs were among the first to feel the pain of budget cuts, which strongly suggests that the general view of the role of the arts in our culture is that they are secondary. I thought about this issue frequently as I wrote the music. I knew back in the spring of ’09 that we were onto something, but the process of composing the work showed me that people will walk away from the experience of this piece with their own personal understanding of the message.

Tony Asaro’s poetic and dramatic libretto, Such Beautiful Things, paints each animal character as undignified cogs in the industrial machine of the farm. Dejected and downtrodden, they longingly dream of an idyllic land called the “Open Country,” a place where they will be valued for their individual gifts. The farm and the Open Country are conceptually opposite states-of-being (oppression vs. liberty). Tony built the structure of his libretto around this dichotomy by demonstrating what life is like on the farm in three farm scenes, and conversely by revealing the hopes and dreams of the characters in the traveling sequences.

In the three farm scenes, the music is rough and serious, and it moves like a factory machine, much like a conveyor-belt on an assembly line. All members of the farm are fully committed to the work at hand, even though it seems meaningless to their individual existence. In these movements, the audience sees why the farm is a place from which the main characters want to escape.

The traveling sequences are, in essence, daydreams in the minds of the characters, which accompany and motivate their journey northward. They fantasize of what life might be like in the utopic Open Country. The music is filled with longing and tenderness, and is strikingly different in comparison to the music of other movements. The mere idea of the Open Country is enough to make them forget the harsh reality of their life on the farm, and the music helps the audience accomplish that, too.

The chorus plays the largest role in Such Beautiful Things. They represent the relentless activity of the farm, they serve as narrators, sometimes they act as actual characters (farmer, robbers, the farm crowd), they embody the action of the journey within the traveling sequences, etc. The music for the chorus is technically demanding, and requires the excellent musicianship of a group like Choral Chameleon. It also demands theatrical flexibility since the chorus plays many roles as characters, places, and psychological states-of-being.

When writing for the soloists, I was most concerned with communicating the essence of each character. The Ass (baritone) is wise and old, and even though he is unhappy on the farm, he approaches his emancipation with a sense of peace and calm. The Dog (tenor), on the other hand, is angst-ridden and highly emotional, and focuses intensely on his personal suffering. The Cat (mezzo-soprano chanteuse) is a whimsical, fun character who is gutsy, restless, and far more casual than the others. The Cock (soprano) is virtuosic, loud, and showy, often singing in the stratosphere to ensure he captures everyone’s attention.

The piece as a whole is diverse in terms of style and genre, blending elements of opera, contemporary concert music, minimalism, musical theater, and popular music. Sometimes it feels like a musical theater piece, other times a classic oratorio. And as it develops, it even feels like an opera. I chose to do this for two reasons: 1. Choral Chameleon prides itself on its ability to transcend barriers of style and genre, and 2. Tony Asaro’s libretto offers many opportunities to be all of these things; consequently, the piece also begged to be all of these things. It also seems fitting for a tale about musicians seeking freedom to be artists.

It has been a great joy to work on Such Beautiful Things, and I would like to thank Vince Peterson for his inspiring vision to make this happen. He is the reason all of this came to be. I must thank Tony Asaro for his incredible libretto, which was so easy to set because it is, in and of itself, a brilliant piece of music. Further, I would like to thank Choral Chameleon for their rare enthusiasm for new music, and their good will to composers like me. It is a rare privilege to work with a group that is fully motivated by their supreme love of music.

– Jeffrey Parola

Top Ten Reasons Why Choral Chameleon Is Awesome

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   Not that you needed them (because you ALREADY love us) but here are 10 things you should know about Choral Chameleon.

 

 

 

10. Concert Receptions.  More often than not, there is a reception with lots of yummy food and wine or other alcohol.  Yum.

9. Did you say Beatles?  Yes, we often sing selections written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon.  Who doesn’t like The Beatles?  

8. Tickets Are Super Cheap!  This speaks for itself.  It’s always under $20 if you buy online.

7. Outside Support.  Numerous, talented individuals have pitched in to support Choral Chameleon, from artwork to website development to photography to composition, a diverse group of talent has caught the Chameleon vibe!

6. Tremendous Talent.  Members of the ensemble are opera singers, broadway singers, composers, teachers, conductors, doctors, visual artists, models, actors, directors, instrumentalists, and so on and so forth.  Choral Chameleon‘s singers come from all over the country (Canada, too) and represent some of the most expressive choral singers around.  

5. Chameleons Have Fun.  Pretty much all of the choir members like each other, care about each other, and are sensitive to each other.  This makes them sing incredibly well as a unit.  But more than anything else, they all love what they do, and this comes across to the audience.  Isn’t it fun to see other  people have fun?

4. Emotion.  Rather than trying to sing perfectly, Choral Chameleon strives to pull on the heartstrings.  The result?  A profound experience which is difficult to express with words, and leaves the listener glad they came.

3. The Board. Most people don’t know about the behind-the-scenes activity of an organization’s board of directors, but Choral Chameleon‘s includes many talented musicians, administrators, and other industry professionals who are all passionate about promoting the performing arts.  They are the rock of the group, and boy do they rock!

2. Vince Peterson.  It is rare to work with an artistic director who is as hip, talented, passionate, and emotionally invested in the direction and potential impact of an ensemble as Vince Peterson.  Sometimes he pushes you farther than you want to go, but it’s always a good thing in the end.  Without challenges there will not be growth.

1. We sing outstanding, diverse music.   From Renaissance songs to modern pop music, Choral Chameleon delivers an exciting program at each concert.  I often hear people describe that they enjoyed going to a symphony, for example, but after 2 hours of hearing classical music, they become bored to death.  Choral Chameleon concerts are like taking the coolest person in the world’s iPod and setting it to shuffle.

 

This blog is written by Andrew Cook-Feltz.

Last Weekend’s Concert In Review

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Choral Chameleon sang a Day of the Dead concert on Sunday, Nov. 1st.  Here are just some of the comments baritone Andrew Cook-Feltz received post-concert from his aunt, some friends and some co-workers:

 

“The tickets were very cheap, considering the quality of the concert.”

“You guys are good.”

“Such a variety of talent.”

“That composer who writes music for you is really talented.”

“Jeremy Pasha’s solo was amazing.”


ACFF

 

 

That’s what my audience members told me.  What about yours?


 

 

Don’t miss the next Choral Chameleon concert, just in time for some awesome Christmas & Holiday music:

Choose Something Like A Starstar-150x220
Saturday, December 12, 2009 at 8:00pm

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




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.

 

Lyrics

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.