For many years I’ve performed
with Ralph Lee’s animal characters as part of the annual Saint
Frances Day celebration at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
on the upper west side of Manhattan. I call the dances, sing and
play my Anglo concertina while Ralph’s costumed animal characters
dance with the children and their grownups at this outdoor festival
after the service.
Mr. and Mrs.
Bunny, the Cat, Dog, Rooster and Donkey
are ready to dance with you... OK, let’s Dance!
WhenSt. Francis Dayrolls around I head up to the
cathedral and try to find a parking spot. If I’m lucky, I get there
early enough to catch the end of the service... incense burning,
hundreds of choristers, Paul Winter and his many musicians, modern
dancers, and the cathedral brimming with local New Yorkers and
their pets. The service of theBlessing
of the Animalsincludes a wide variety of
creatures hired to play their parts, giant tortoises in wheel
barrows, llamas, bowls of algae, camels, boa constrictors as thick
as your thigh, eagles, reindeer, giraffes and elephants... all with
their handlers, under the improbably large vaulted ceiling of this
immense indoor holy space. The animals process with as much dignity
as they can muster past the bishop, dean, canon, pastor, vicar, and
other resident clergy, all resplendent in their finest robes, while
the music echoes and the singing and dancing and banner waving
decorate the solemn ritual of this joyous scene.
After the service is over,
thousands of congregants spill out onto the street and the grounds
of the cathedral where there are booths set up to promote all kinds
of animal services, pet adoption agencies, environmental
organizations, craft and food vendors and me ...with my masked
animal friends, ready to dance the socks off of your
When I graduated from college in
‘83, my first composing job was to write and perform the music for
Ralph Lee’sMettawee River
their summer production. I continued to work with this theater
company for five of their summer touring shows and then various
performing situations to this day. Ralph designs and builds the
puppet characters, masks and sets, directs the shows and tweaks the
original commissioned scripts while his wife Casey makes the
costumes and manages the company. Their work is award winning,
unique and wonderful.
Today's dancing animal characters
are from past summer shows and some of the actors toiling inside
the masks and costumes have been working with the company for as
long as I have. We can keep this up for just over an hour before
exhaustion makes us retreat back to the dressing room where we shed
our sweaty costumes and giggle over stories about what just
Each actor had a tunnel vision
experience of the dancing and we all laugh as we talk about this
cute child, that adoring parent, the tears and fears and exuberant
participation of our dancing partners of all ages. Another St.
Francis Day is over.
Here is a link for a professional
video of the festivities in 2007 by Pigeon Projects.
All photos and video clips were
taken by Gloria Giraldoa.