A Dream Blooms in Memphis

Michael Ching looks down into the orchestra pit where the a cappella vocal bands are singing. DeltaCappella and RIVA form the voicestra for his Midsummer Night's Dream operapella.

I don’t like to let go of people. This  could possibly pose a bit of minor aggravation to some folks, but so far, no one –at least to my knowledge –has ever objected. I don’t hover. I just continue to allow the edges of their lives to touch mine, like watercolors bound by water.

For this reason, you might think I’d be all over and all about social networking, but I am not. As I told my boss, who thinks I should be, I already FEEL connected. “Maybe someday….”, I tell him, as if he has asked for a pony.

Facebook does not take into account that there are people who exist at the farthest margins of your life, who have long forgotten their place in your universe, but who, at least for you, have great value.

Such a person for me is Michael Ching, the composer of the operapella that we are performing at Playhouse on the Square in partnership with Opera Memphis.Michael has of course no notion nor should he that he has been blooming like a Texas bluebonnet along the roadway of my life, but in truth, he has.

I first came upon Michael in the mid-eighties, when he was the super-charged young executive director of Opera Memphis. More than likely, his interest was in ginning up some patron dollars from my late husband and me. We were new in town, and I am not sure if I was already working at the Dixon then or not. In fact, all I remember is thinking that MC had the kind of smarts and drive and creativity to do whatever he wanted to do, and I admire that in a person.

Amazing, but decades come, and decades go. And OM and MC flourished, and not just me, but Memphis as well,  came to enjoy the flowering of his talent.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is playing at Playhouse on the Square through February 13.

And then, one day, DeltaCappella knew it needed a vocal coach who would have the ability to interact with a cappella singers. Coaching a cappella is very different from dealing with an ensemble, because much is accomplished through an interactive collaboration of the singers. There is no director. We needed someone to help us learn the notes–and troubleshoot.

I suggested MC, and with his usual intellectual curiosity, and the sense of fun and discovery that pervades his approach to life and music, he said, “Yes!”

The rest is of course, history. Literally. The world’s first a cappella opera has been written, and by Michael Ching.

His operapella is  a thing of great beauty and of good humor, for the libretto comes straight from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the music is as close to the heart as music can get, bubbling  like a spring from the voices of the singers, with nothing man-made to get in the way of its soul.

Some things are simply meant to be.

And people?

They are meant to bloom.

Love Looks with the Mind

This is a model that was created by Playhouse on the Square to illustrate the stage set for the production of a Midsummer Night's Dream.

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.”

–William Shakespeare

That pretty much summarizes a Midsummer Night’s  Dream, the dream of an a cappella opera that  our vocal band has been dreaming since the fall of 2010.

Our first vision of the operapella  came to us via composer, Michael Ching,  when we prepared to sing a snippet  for So-Jam at Duke University, an annual college a cappella convention of sorts,  drawing singers from the Eastern side of the U. S. and featuring some outstanding touring a cappella vocal bands.  The  Contemporary A Cappella League, a group of post graduate singers from all over the country, has piggybacked its own conference  onto in the last couple of years.

The hummable, memorable tune that we performed at the conference  could be called, “I Do Not Lie”, and is a lyrical and spirited duet in which the guy, Lysander, and the girl, Hermia,  discuss the evening’s sleeping arrangements–he sure sounds sincere, but still,  she wonders, is he? Either way, she decides that if he is being truthful, then he can simply cool his jets a little while longer and be a proper gentleman, to which  he gently agrees, although he is sticking to his guns all the while, repeating earnestly, “I do not lie.”

Since this fall, and especially this month,  the production of the opera has overtaken all of our lives. To be truthful, we had a notion of what it would be like, but even so, none of us realized how much of our time would be usurped in the vortex of rehearsals and performances.

Another view of the stage set.

Everyone has put everything they have into this production of a Midsummer’s Night Dream, from the folks at Opera Memphis, to the talented people at Playhouse on the Square, and of course DeltaCappella and RIVA.

Milton Foley was my  college English  professor who  made the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare assume such a  moral vitality that they  rearranged my mental  molecules–as well as my spirit. Shakespeare  changed my life then, and made me a better person. I saw things differently after I took that course.

And now, here comes old Will, again. He’d like that line.

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.”