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What Owls Do

What Owls Do is an opera, with arias and sung recitative. It was written for my a cappella group, Quintessential, so the singers required are five fearless men, two tenors, two baritones and a bass. One tenor has to be able to sing falsetto in the role of the Mother. It is a cappella throughout; the singers not singing during arias are the "orchestra," and provide the accompaniments for the sung recitatives. It is tricky to stay on pitch for such a long piece! One trick we learned was to encourage applause after each aria and re-pitch with pocket-held pitch pipes during the applause!

The music is by David Anderegg, except for a liberal quotation from Schubert and a Danish Christmas carol by Niels Gade, with words by Hans Christian Anderson. It is short, 40 minutes, so it can be performed as part of a worship service. It is written for families (children and adults), and it is tonal, and very tuneful.

The libretto, also written by David Anderegg, is a Christmas theme, about an owl and a family of mice on Christmas Eve. The hungry owl captures the little brother in the mouse family; then, each member of the family takes his or her turn in trying to convince the owl to spare the little fellow. The owl keeps referring to his nature: as he says, "eating small furry things is what owls do. I can't help it; it is my nature! It is what I have always done." Eventually (with a little divine intervention) the owl finds his way to a merciful conclusion.

The piece is essentially a working-out of the prophecy of Isaiah and the Incarnation of Jesus as the Prince of Peace. "What Owls Do" is most similar to "Amahl and the Night Visitors" in terms of theme, except with the emphasis on peace instead of charity. And, like "Amahl," it has a happy ending.

What Owls Do premiered in December 2005 at the First Congregational Church in Stockbridge, MA. It has been performed at churches, museums and concert halls every December from then until 2010. It is currently on hiatus, with plans for it to return to production in 2012 or 2013.