Mastersingers getting silly in season premiere Oct. 18

Dori O'Neal, Tri-City Herald staff writerOctober 9, 2013 

If there was ever a time to introduce your kids to a classical music concert, it would be the season premiere of the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers on Oct. 18 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Kennewick.

The reason is simple -- children will find out that eating their vegetables makes for a good time when the Mastersingers perform Eat Your Vegetables by Seattle composer John Muehleisen.

Justin Raffa, artistic director for the Mastersingers, said the piece is a musical farce based on a selection of funny poems written by Northwest poet Joanne Gunnerson, who died in 2010.

"I don't want to give away the surprise," Raffa said. "But the piece is a set of three different songs accompanied by trumpet and percussion. They are fun, humorous pieces in which the choir does much more than sing."

Gunnerson's funny bone was something her good friend Muehleisen couldn't ignore.

"Joanne was a dear friend who had this wonderful sense of humor," Muehleisen said in a telephone interview with the Herald. "And her poetry reflected that humor."

After Gunnerson died, Muehleisen decided to honor her and write music to go with her poetry, especially the poems about eating vegetables.

"There really needs to be more humor in music, especially classical music," he said.

And that's how his musical version of Eat Your Vegetables was born. This symphony of humor was written with several parts and movements, he said.

The Tri-City concert features the second set of the piece, which includes movement one, Ultraviolet, a tribute to eggplants. The second movement, Brussels Sprouts, has the chorus firing off such humorous lyrics as, You Frauds! Masquerading as exotic European vegetables. You don't fool me. You're nothing but undergrown, miniature cabbages.

The final movement in Eat Your Vegetables is March of the Stalks, which suggests there's a whole lot more to celery than being green, crunchy and healthy.

The singers will be accompanied by Tri-City musicians Troy Lydeen on trumpet and Cari Rose on percussion.

Who thought vegetables could be so entertaining? Raffa quipped.

"John's piece proves that it's fun to be silly sometimes," he said. "He is a very eloquent man who loves poetry and always seeks the true meaning in the words that he is setting to music. And the Mastersingers will have a few surprises for the audience too."

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18-19 and at 3 p.m. Oct. 20 at St. Paul's, at the corner of Olympia Street and 10th Avenue in Kennewick.

On a more serious note, another of Muehleisen's compositions, Consolation, will be performed at the concert. The piece pays tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December and names all of them in the middle of the piece, including the name of the shooter's mother, Nancy Lanza.

"She was actually Adam Lanza's first victim and seems to be mostly forgotten," Muehleisen said. "She was as much a victim of that horrific event as the children and adults who he killed that day."

Muehleisen gave up a 20-year career as a software analyst with Microsoft in 2010 to pursue his love of music.

"I tried doing both -- composing and working for Microsoft -- but found I had less and less time for composing," he said. "I love people and how they connect with each other through music."

Muehleisen also will be the Mastersingers' composer in residence for two weeks and will visit with students from Richland and Chiawana high schools as well as Chief Joseph Middle School.

Season tickets to the Mastersingers' season cost $80 and include five concerts. Individual tickets to each concert cost $20 in advance or $22 at the door. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade are free. Tickets are available at or by calling 460-1766.

Here's a look at the rest of the Mastersingers' new season:

-- Dec. 7-8: The Handel's Messiah sing-a-long is at 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 7 and parts one and three will be performed at 3 p.m. Dec. 8, both at Faith Assembly Church in Pasco.

-- Feb. 21 and 23: An a cappella concert featuring the music of Tri-City composer Reginald Unterseher and composer Varlo Gesualdo at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 and 3 p.m. Feb. 23 at St. Joseph's Church in Kennewick.

-- May 9-11: The music of guest composer Paul Carey and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams is featured at 7:30 p.m. May 9-10 and 3 p.m. May 11 at the Parish of the Holy Spirit in Kennewick.

-- June 6 and 8: The music of Heitor Villa-Lobos and Howard Goodall is featured at 7:30 p.m. June 6 and 3 p.m. June 8 in the auditorium at Richland High School.

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514;; Twitter: @dorioneal

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