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“A Grateful Tail” Is the First-Ever Symphony Honoring Dogs

Maestro Steven Mercurio went to work after his dog died, and the result is spectacular.

Michael Leaverton  |  Jun 26th 2013

When acclaimed maestro Steven Mercurio’s 15-year-old Poodle, Lola, died of old age, he was bereft. The composer, who’s done arrangements for such acclaimed artists as Sting, Andrea Bocelli, and Placido Domingo, wanted to do something special for his dog.

“A sympathetic friend sent me a copy of [playwright] Eugene O’Neill’s letter in which he encourages dog owners not to grieve death but to rejoice in the happy life they shared,” he said.

So what did he do? He rejoiced, immensely. He set the letter to music, and he went at it full bore, creating the first-ever symphony composed entirely in celebration of dogs. It took him four years. The final result, when concert-goers sit down with their dogs — yes, you are going to bring your dog to this — is A Grateful Tail, a four-movement classical symphony for orchestra, vocalist, and gospel choir. It will feature more than 80 members of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and there, at its head, with a baton and a hole in his heart for this beloved Poodle, is Mercurio, stabbing his baton into the night, rejoicing his dog.

Yeah, I woulda done that, too.

The concert is part of an evening of dog music called Woof Fest, also the brainchild of Mercurio. A Grateful Tail is the second part of the evening; the first includes a selection of music focusing on dogs, including John Alden Carpenter’s “Dogs,” George Gershwin’s “Walking the Dog,” and the blues song made famous by Elvis Presley, “You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog.” It also includes a tribute to working/military dogs/service dogs called “Fido,” featuring Beethoven, Haydn, and Stephen Foster.

It’s quite a night. It’s going to be interesting to see how the dogs handle it.

The highlight of A Grateful Tail looks to be the third movement, “Last Will and Testament,” which features Academy Award-winner and singer F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus, Homeland) performing the featured role of the “Old Dying Dog,” singing the text of Eugene O’Neill’s letter.

Abraham expects to get teared up.

“It’s a fabulous role, and I happen to love dogs,” said Abraham in an interview with All Animals Magazine. “When you play an animal, there are no limits to what you can do. I’ve played vicious sharks of people and snakes in the grass, but never a dog — such a loveable animal. I have to work at not weeping when I am singing this — because it’s hard to cry and sing at the same time.”

Woof Fest takes place in Philadelphia on Aug. 24 and Columbia, Maryland, on Aug. 25. We hope more dates will appear soon. Check the schedule at the Woof Fest website.

Images via Maestro Steven Mercurio’s Facebook page

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