my partner Rob and I decided we wanted to live in warmer
weather, so we moved to San Francisco. I brought with me ten
years of experience as a professional musician, along with a
whole filing cabinet of music arrangements I had created over
the previous decade. The arrangements soon became quite handy
when I discovered performance venues in the bay area.
The Village, San Francisco:
Former home of The Village, a 1970s stage venue in San
After settling in San Francisco, I started looking for music
work. One night while visiting a rather notorious bar, I got to
talking with one Fred Howell. We soon learned that we were both
show-biz enthusiasts, so social bar talk went out the window.
Instead, in true Judy and Mickey tradition, we said "Let's put
on a show." And we did. It became Spoonful of Sugar, a
musical revue with a cast of 16. This production still remains
one of my all-time favorite musical experiences, and I treasure
the friendships I made with the cast.
I began arranging music for Spoonful and remembered
that two years earlier, at New Trier High School West, I had
written a setting of the song "Brotherhood of Man" for the
student-directed stage production, Potpourri. So,
faster than a speeding bullet, I took my older setting,
re-arranged it for another group, and -- voilą!
-- a new arrangement was born. This version featured a vocal
solo by Oscar Jackson.
P.S. Spoonful of Sugar was also memorable because Don
Cavallo, the choreographer, and Henry Soares, one of the chorus
members, owned a San Francisco restaurant/bar called The
Fickle Fox. They invited me to join their staff as house
pianist and cabaret host, a job I continued -- for 15 years!
Spoonful of Sugar program cover, 1971
Denis and Ray Piccinini posing with their
San Francisco "Golden Awards" trophies
for live theatre, 1972
of Sugar cast, 1971
Man, performed by Spoonful of Sugar
chorus with vocal soloist Oscar Jackson, arranged and
accompanied by Denis, 1971
In 1970 I began pursuing a music doctoral degree at Stanford
University, south of San Francisco in Palo Alto. I looked for
accompanying positions and soon found myself working with
Director Robert MacKinnon and his Stanford Men's Glee Club. I
left the Glee Club when I graduated from Stanford in 1974.
In 1980 Bob asked me if I'd like to serve as interim director of
the glee club for six months while he went on sabbatical leave.
I said yes and began planning repertoire for the group, which by
then had become a coed chorus.
Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd had opened in 1979, so
I decided to program one of its songs, "Not While I'm Around."
At the same time, I realized that the glee club women's group
"The Naturals" loved an arrangement Bob had written for them of
the old standard "My Buddy." So why not combine the two songs
into what's now known as a mashup? Which I did, and
which you'll hear.
MacKinnon with Stanford Glee Club students, 1971
Not While I'm
Around, performed by Stanford University
Glee Club Naturals, arranged and accompanied by Denis,
Notre Dame Theatre, College of Notre Dame:
Coward in Review cast members Jody Bettendorf, Bob
Titlow, Onnie Taylor and Denis, 1974
In 1971 I began looking for teaching jobs and discovered College
of Notre Dame, a wonderful small institution in Belmont, about
half-way between San Francisco and Stanford. I started out as a
temporary instructor with one summer course and ended up
teaching there for over thirty years.
At CND I met Robert Titlow, Chair of the Theatre Arts
Department, and we became close friends and colleagues. Bob and
I decided to mount our own musical revue in 1981, dubbing it Lullaby
of Broadway. Featuring a cast of about twenty singers and
dancers, it became in intense labor of love ("let's put on a
show" -- to the max). I arranged most of the vocal and
instrumental numbers. The show became so popular that we mounted
a second version in 1990 and then re-formatted a traveling
version in 1995.
"Manhattan" from the 1981 Lullaby production features
three women and is accompanied by two pianists - yours truly
plus my former student and good friend Chris Khoury. Chris and I
served as duo-pianists for many musicals over the years.
Erica, Julia and Moira introducing "Manhattan" in
original Lullaby of Broadway production,
Erica, Julia and
Moira reprising "Manhattan" at Denis's retirement
performed by vocal soloists Erica Harris, Julia Jepson
and Moira O'Hara, in College of Notre Dame stage
production Lullaby of Broadway, arranged by
Denis, accompanied by pianists Chris Khoury and Denis,
Also performed in Lullaby of Broadway was a long
sequence entitled "Salute to the Operetta," featuring six of the
College's most experienced singers - both students and teachers.
"Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" was the finale for this medley of
Oscar and Onnie,
Trevor and Birgitte, Michael and Joanne in "Salute to the
Operetta" from Lullaby of Broadway, 1981
Mystery of Life, performed by vocal
soloists Birgitte Moyer, Joanne Palmer, Onnie Taylor,
Oscar Jackson, Michael Morris and Trevor Robinson, in
College of Notre Dame stage production Lullaby of
Broadway, arranged by Denis, accompanied by
pianists Chris Khoury and Denis, 1981
in 1970 my primary teaching, arranging and performing venues
were College of Notre Dame and The Fickle Fox. Recordings of
arrangements from these two venues can be heard in other
chapters of this website.
From 1970 to 2005 I also worked as musical director and arranger
for some staged shows, cabaret revues and solo recitals in San
Francisco. In the 1990s I began accompanying several choral
groups, most importantly Ragazzi Boys Chorus in San Mateo. I
often arranged music for various performances, which
unfortunately were not recorded for posterity.
A mindful of memories, a handful of photos. Here are four: