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Musical McCall family will play — and dance — together

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By any measure, the McCall family of West County is remarkable.

The parents, Anna Lackschewitz and Alvin McCall, are professional musicians: Lackschewitz is a freelance violist and faculty member at Webster University; McCall is a longtime member of the cello section of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Lackschewitz home-schooled her four sons until high school, with remarkable results. Peter, 31, is a lawyer in Philadelphia; he and his wife are expecting their first child next month. Andrew, 29, a former Rhodes Scholar, is working on a doctorate in political science at the University of California, Berkeley.

The two younger sons, Charles, 25, and Henry Max, 22, are both dancers.

Charles studied at Ballet Chicago at 14, followed by the School of American Ballet in New York, where he was trained in choreographer George Balanchine’s neoclassical style and technique. He studied and worked at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle and was a soloist with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. A talented bass-baritone as well, he just accepted a position in the ensemble of “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway. Henry Max is a student in the Ailey School-Fordham University Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program in New York.

The parents and their dancer sons will perform together in a recital Sunday at Webster University. Charles, tall and handsome with a deep, contagious laugh, commuted from New York last week (he started rehearsals for “Dolly” on Tuesday). Henry Max was to join the family late in the week.

The idea for the recital came two years ago, Anna says, when she performed with a eurhythmicist. Eurhythmics (the pop duo aside) seek to interpret musical rhythms in body movements, “expressing tones with hand gestures,” she says. The eurhythmicist “says it’s not at all a dance; it’s a literal expression of the music. It’s very graceful, and the gestures she chooses make it into a performance.”

“I would say that it’s sort of a literal transcription of music into dance,” Charles McCall says. “What makes a dance a dance?”

“It was fun to do,” adds his mother, “and it made some difficult modern pieces more accessible. And I’d rather be playing with my sons than anyone.”

The recital will start off with the Cello Sonata by Paul Hindemith, with a dance by Henry Max, who also designed the costumes for the program. Next comes Lillian Fuchs’ “Sonata Pastorale” for viola, with Charles. That’s followed by the Solo Suite for Viola by Max Reger, with Henry Max, and some Bach for Alvin and Charles.

The last piece is by Alvin’s older brother, the late composer Maurice McCall. Maurice wrote four brief, lyrical pieces for violin and piano; years ago, Alvin arranged them for piano and cello and recorded them. “We re-arranged them for viola and cello,” Anna says. “Maurice died in March, so this is a tribute to him.” Charles and Henry Max will dance together. “It means a lot to us to do it.”

This will be the first time the four of them have worked together this way. “It’s actually going to be a little hard for me because I’m going to be more interested in watching them than in my own part,” Anna says.

They’re happy to be dancing in a space the size of the one at the Community Music School. “They’re tall, so it’s hard for them to turn on a small stage,” she says.

They’ve come up with new choreography for the recital, a duty they’re sharing equally. (Henry Max is considering a post-dance career in choreography; most dancers are fortunate if they can dance into their early to mid-30s, so a backup plan is a necessity.) They co-choreographed the Maurice pieces.

Their styles are different, Charles says. “Part of it comes from our physical bodies, which are very different. I’m hypermobile (double-jointed); I have a lot more flexibility but a lot harder time doing things like turning, which require a still body. Max has tighter muscles that work a bit better at faster things.

“There’s also a difference in the training we got. I was very ballet-oriented; after I left St. Louis, I had just a few ballroom and modern (dance) classes. Max has really good ballet technique, but he had a lot more modern and other influences, like hip-hop, in his training. My dancing tends to be more lyrical and flowing; his is definitely faster.”

How does the family account for having two sons becoming professional dancers? “I chose the perfect wife,” says Alvin, whose father was a talented social dancer. “We got a little genetic something.”

Anna says: “Dance was my first passion, but I wasn’t flexible, and I was too tall for my generation, when a ballerina was 5’2”. My dance teacher discouraged me.” Her sons took classes through their home-school group and COCA.

Musically, working with dancers is different than with other instrumentalists, Alvin says. “I feel like I should be responsible for them or something, selecting the correct tempo and keeping it right. The first thing is to play the music, but I have to play it at the speed they can do it.”

For Charles, though, “as a Balanchine-trained dancer, until I have ideas about how it should go musically, I don’t feel as though I should influence the tempo for my ease.”

In the end, they agree, they all work it out together, as a family.

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Sarah Bryan Miller is the classical music critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; she has also written on a variety of other topics.

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