“Up and down, up and down–
I will lead them up and down!”
Thus sings Kyle Huey, the capricious and sometimes reckless Puck, predicting the wild goose chase that he plans to lead the confused lovers of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream on until they literally drop to the stage for one last slumber.
Lysander, played by John Dooley, sings early in the operapella, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Indeed. God bless the broken road that eventually leads us straight.
As engaging as the ups and downs played out at stage level, there are some enthralling things taking place in that invisible netherworld of the orchestra pit.
In fact, it has given a new cachet to seats in the balcony, where at least some of the singers can be observed. Unfortunately, Dan Beard, that other-worldly bass that
provides the deep, vibrating underpinning of the voicestra is seated toward the far right side of the pit–as is the remarkable vocal percussionist, Paul Koziel. They are situated so that the members who need to get over to the stairs won’t have to trip over them. It’s crowded down there.
This has led a few folks (I have been inveterate and unabashed about eavesdropping) to wonder if the sound is realllllly all natural. I want to tell them, “Yep, it’s their real musical hair–you can tug on these notes to your hearts content.” Dan Beard and Paul Koziel–and every other guy in DeltaCappella and the women in RIVA are the real deal. No musical toupees in the voicestra!
Some have also wondered how they stay on pitch. No slight of hand there–although it does involve a pair of them, and they belong to Stephen Carey, who sits at a keyboard and gives the singers pitches from time to time via those headsets they wear. Two hours is a long time to go without a pitch pipe.
Not only must the singers trust each other, but they must trust their conductor. This is especially important since the members of DeltaCappella and RIVA do not rehearse or perform with a director. That would be very chorally. It would be like Dave Matthews turning around to conduct the band. Like Future Man and players in a rock band, singers in a vocal band tune and play with each other. It’s way jazzier than a choral ensemble. It forces the members to pay attention to each other, and not lean on a director.
But of course, in this case, there is well, a three ring circus! There are singers up and down! And not just up and down, they are all around, too, because several members of the voicestra, must move from the pit up the stairs and onto the stage when they perform their roles as the “mechanicals” who put on the play within a play.
Like an air traffic controller, or in this case, a sound traffic controller, Curt listens and communicates to the singers on stage and to the singers in the pit so that they can blend as one. Being blendy is what a cappella is all about, and Curt has assumed a hero’s status among the singers for his style of conducting and his sensitivity to their needs.
The singers in the pit include eight members of RIVA,a newly formed women’s a cappella group, and DeltaCappella, a twelve-man vocal band that was the inspiration to composer Michael Ching to explore the idea of an a cappella opera.In fact, Ching dedicated his score to the founder of DeltaCappella, Jay Mednikow.
Rounding out the ups and downs of the music and how it gets into the ears of the
audience is Noah Glenn, the sound guru for Playhouse on the Square. Noah has performed not just a Herculean task, but all seven of them by combining almost that many different sources of sound that emanate from the pit and onstage, and that even combines and includes crrrrrrazy sounds like bird calls, wolf
howls, kick drums, cymbals, as well as that sublime blendiness that you can’t put your finger on….
Noah Glenn takes these sonic elements and like an artist, organizes them so that they can be enjoyed not only by the audience–but importantly, by the singers, because you have people down below who have to hear everything, since they are tuning not only to each other, but to the singers up above and on stage.
The production of the show has had some minor up and down moments–the course of art, like love, does not always run smooth, but the blessed union of arts organizations that this production has fostered has created a lot of new friendships, new ideas, and greater understanding. And that’s beautiful music for all of us.
As Memphians, we embrace our dreams, whether they are those expressed by Shakespeare, or more recent ones expounded upon by Reverend King. In Memphis we know how important a dream can be. We believe in the words of poet Langston Hughes:
Hold fast to dreams/ For if dreams die/ Life is a broken winged bird/ That cannot fly.
Up and down we go.
But mostly we keep going up.
God bless Memphis.
We have a dream.