Sunday, April 3, 2011
Madrigals, MadriGalz and Mrs. Pellicer
At the very heart of my town there's a web of connection reaching back decades or generations or, in some cases, hundreds of years. In the case of my dear old person, for instance, some of his connections go back to kindergarten at R.B. Hunt Elementary School (conveniently located right across from the Alligator Farm!) and some go back through his Aunt Helen to Spain and the island of Minorca and those descendants who settled along the eastern coast of Florida. The interesting threads of that web include people like Pellicers and Klipstines and Pacettis and Prevatts and Manucys and, well. Ahem. The list goes on and on, and it has a million stories. Father Tom Willis, who was once a plain old St. Augustine boy himself, recalled serving at Mass at the Cathedral, which stands right alongside the central Plaza in St. Augustine, and having everyone dash out the doors at the (locally famous) cry of "Mullet on the beach!" From this same Cathedral along this same Plaza, with their evocative sense of the old cities of Europe, Sister Patricia took one of her boldest steps toward melding our oddly Southern-cum-Catholic sensibilities with an appreciation of the culture and musical history that was always our birthright.
From about 1980 until about 2000, she served as musical director and organizer of a group of Madrigal singers who worked roughly as the MadriGalz do today, during the holiday season. She did Madrigal dinners. She taught madrigals, with their intricate, delicate harmonies, to a small, shifting group of singers who were all eager to learn. She taught Klipstines and Pellicers, at least two of whom married each other. She found people who could make period costumes, and tenors who were willing to wear them. I think it might have been during this time that she realized the breadth of the gift of musicality with which Miss Judy had been blessed, but that's a tale for another night, my loves. The Cathedral Madrigal Singers had a LOT of fun. It was a fine experience of the pure and undiluted joy of a capella singing in close harmony, perhaps something like being part of an ensemble of actors: perhaps too subtle to be noticed by casual observers, small ensembles can create an exhilarating trust in one another and consequent confidence, the effects of which can be felt for a lifetime.
All this leads us to the present day, albeit without the detail I ought to have provided. (Many people contributed to the evolution of madrigal performance in St. Augustine, some of them heroically. And this, of course, is another evening's tale, my dears.) Left to our own devices we were predictably naughty (all Miss Judy's fault, of course.) The MadriGalz pirated some of Sister's early ideas, figured out how to fit them to the vocal talent we had amongst us, and took a long happy dive into singing at Christmastide. Many, many voices and coaches deserve credit for early changes, helping step this quadrant of St. Augustine into the contemporary; driving toward incremetal change.
We - Judy and Lis and I - wanted to be better in our incarnation as The MadriGalz. We wanted to share the journey, however obscure or even invisible it might have been to our friends. We worked as hard as our day jobs allowed. We spent time recording at Gatorbone Studios; we took shameless advantage of indispensable talent (Lon and Rocky and Rick: we're pretty sure we still owe all these guys). But make no mistake: we would not have been able to share that recording beyond geography and logistics without Miss Dot. She made us a gift of faith that enabled us to replicate the CD that had been lovingly recorded for us by Gatorbone Studios. I believe she made many such gifts of love during her life, and I came to believe she was one of those "let not your left hand" people; for Miss Dot it was far more important to do those small good deeds than to be recognized for the doing.
This Christmas past, 2010, we gathered at Miss Dot Pellicer's house (she was 'Mrs. Pellicer', of course, but always 'Miss Dot' to us) and carolled just for her. We were scheduled to sing at Creekside Dinery at suppertime; it's close by and we took advantage of the time. We sang with more care than ever, not performing as we usually might, but rather sharing the music with her, knowing we weren't singing to someone without appreciation. We leaned close to her to sing the Arcadelt Ave Maria, a breathtaking 16th century version that always brings tears to our eyes and gives us goosebumps. Miss Dot closed her eyes and seemed delighted by the sound. Her kids and grandkids and great-grandkids (Pellicers, Klipstines, Prevatts: who knows? who cares?) gathered around our ankles or pushed into the small room. There were no acoustical challenges. We simply leaned together and sang in close quiet harmony, comfortably, hoping to ease Miss Dot in whatever small way we might. We eased one another. I think Lis and I dared to hope that our voices might have eased her mother, but especially that we might have eased Miss Judy in some small measure.
There were madrigals in St. Augustine, some time gone. And there are MadriGalz, and there were countless miles in between, more twists and turns than could be counted or followed. For all these and many other changes and challenges, there was Dot Pellicer. May the next generation of art and music and change find its humble way through the unquestioning blessing of others like Dot. Among the Pellicers is the example of Red River Band, with Miss Judy's brother Jonny and sister-in-law Lori as the principals: Lori was one of the founding members of that madrigal group I mentioned. She had a voice like a silver bell. She went from singing madrigals to singing bluesy ballads with the same command....but this is yet another tale for another night, my loves.
For this night, we send our love to Miss Judy and are simply thankful to Miss Dot. She is gone from us now, but leaves Miss Judy and her siblings as proof of her genetically inherited and shared talent, love and faith in the future.