Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Times Pic: Alex McMurray explains the Valparaiso Men's Chorus

 By Dave Walker, | The Times-Picayune

In Sunday’s (Nov. 4) episode of “Treme,” reporter L.P Everett blows off some steam by attending a late-night Mardi Gras performance by the Valparaiso Men's Chorus, an all-star aggregation of New Orleanians who regularly gather to sing sea shanties.

vaplaraisomenschorus .jpg  

Here’s an edited email interview with Alex McMurray, who leads the group in song in the scene.

Q: Who are you and what are you and your friends doing on “Treme?”
A: I'm Alex McMurray and we are the Valparaiso Men's Chorus.

What are you doing on the show?
Making a hellacious racket I hope.

When and why was the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus first convened?
The VMC was first convened on Nov. 29, 2004, to record a CD of sea shanties and to make a film of that process.

Is it an expression of your personal interest in maritime work songs?
I was employed at Tokyo DisneySea theme park in 2002 to sing sea shanties for guests in the park. The stuff grew on me and now we do it for fun.

What’s up with the name?
Valparaiso, Chile, was a major stop for whaling and merchant vessels before the age of steam and the construction of the Panama Canal. Ships would stop for water and provisions. Guano and nitrates, too.

What’s up with your costume in the scene?
I have not seen the scene, and do not remember. They told us it was Mardi Gras night, and we assumed our costumes would be somewhat ragged.

Who are some other notable members?
Washboard Chaz, Matt Perrine, Carlo Nuccio, Joe Cabral, Matt Rhody, Greg Schatz, Dave Rebeck, Rick Trolsen, Andy Bizer, Bill Malchow, Charlie Brown, Chris Lane, Christian Trosclair, D.C. Harbold, The Rev. Spooky LeStrange, Erik Paul Corveau, Fayard Lindsey, Gabe Soria, George Ingmire, Henry Griffin, Jay Holland, Jeff Treffinger, Jeffrey Damnit, Dr. James Paton Walsh, Jonathan Freilich, Luke Allen, Michael Mehiel, Rob Schafer, Robert Starnes, Troy Thibodeaux.

Who comes to your shows?
Thirsty people who love to bellow.

Who buys your CDs?
Those same people, I guess.

Where does the group find its repertoire?
Books mostly, but there are more and more sea shanty records coming out all the time.

Capturing a spirited performance like this can be tricky from a production perspective. What was it like shooting the scene for Sunday’s episode?
It was in the morning, which is different for us. And we were sober. Or we were supposed to be. It was hard to mime for the cameras. Our blood was up.

I presume you got to meet Tim Robbins. How cool was that?
Very cool. He's a fan of the genre and came to a show of ours a little while later. He's a good director because he's taller than everyone else.

Any upcoming appearances, either by you in other settings or the chorus, you’d like to plug?
We will be at the Saturn Bar the Saturday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 24). We also have a new CD out called "The Straits of Saint Claude."

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