It all started an UnTalent Show at the Cazadero retreat in the early 2000s: Mary wrote a little ditty based on the tune “This Little Babe” from Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, which was the piece we were rehearsing for the December concert series. The All-Alto Chorus premiered the following:
This great big choir
Is all altos
We swamp the tiny sopranos
Tenor and bass, what’s that about?
Must be those parts that we drown out!
Those other folks, want us to switch
They claim they cannot hear their pitch.
And so on. It was a brilliant piece of UnTalent that enthralled the audience, although because about half the Caz attendees were on stage, the audience was a little sparse. But Mary’s career as a songwriter was off! And the All-Alto Chorus was born!
For a subsequent UnTalent Show, Mary wrote “These Notes Were Made for Altos”, based on the tune “These Boots Were Made for Walking”. It has a particularly memorable refrain:
These notes were made for altos
We know just what to do
One of these days our part
Will include more than one or two!
Mary’s songs are so good that she began writing (furtively) UnTalent songs for other sections. “There’s Nothing Like a Bass”, based on Roger and Hammerstein’s “There is Nothing Like a Dame” comes immediately to mind. It has been reprised at several UnTalent Shows and is a standard in The Rogier Songbook. Given its importance in Mary’s repertoire, I’ve included a fair bit of it below:
We got altos by the dozens
We got tenors by the score
We got plenty of sopranos
We sure don’t need any more
We got concerts at St Joseph’s,
We got Tom Clark at the door
What ain’t we got?
What we’re lookin’ for!
From the bottom of the sea
To the top of outer space
You can search the whole darn universe and still not find a trace
You can listen for the guys who sing
those low notes with such grace
What can’t you hear?
You can’t hear bass!
We have no one who can sing low enough to anchor down the ton-ic
Without that deep resonant note to ground us, we sound mo-ronic…..
There is nothing like a bass,
Nothing in the world,
There must be a few someplace
Some guys ready to just sing bass!
Every chorus and ensemble
Every trio or quartet
Without bass they start to tremble
If they haven’t found one yet
Every time the poor fools try to
Harmonize and start to croon
What ain’t they in?
They ain’t in tune!
And it continues.
There are copycat artists, of course, both within the alto section and in other sections, and, as you might guess, there is some gentle rivalry between sections to try and out-write Mary.
While the All-Alto Chorus confines its activities to the privacy of the retreat, Mary’s UnTalented songwriting fame flourishes beyond it. Need a song? Talk to Mary!
When someone retires from the board, they get a Mary song. When there is a special occasion or someone to be honored in the chorus, they get a Mary song. (For two examples, see Mary’s “Ode to Joe” and “Welcoming Ming to BCCO” on this website.) Sometimes for no reason at all except that the mood strikes her, we get a Mary song.
From classical to Broadway to opera to pop, Mary can create a parody in a range of styles. Her intent is always humorous and her delight that we love to perform her songs is infectious.
Even though I began The Rogier Songbook in earnest, alas, I have not been a devoted record keeper. I have lost count of the number of songs that Mary has written and entertained us with. I can say this: they are all witty, silly and disarmingly charming. All are sung with love. From your BCCO fans, thank you, Mary.