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Dogs put on 'command' performance at Pittsburgh orchestra audition

| Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 11:06 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Debra Cutshall, of Greensburg, signals to her poodle Bailey to bark in time to Leopold Mozart's 'Hunting Horn Symphony,' during the dog's audition to perform the piece with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall on Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in Downtown. A group of dogs were auditioning to perform a segment of Leopold Mozart's 'Hunting Horn Symphony' with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, which will be performed this summer at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in June.

Ten sit, but only five stay.

On the line: a chance to “perform” vocals with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

And a treat.

“We thought it would be something fun and exciting for him to try,” said Debra Cutshall, owner of Bailey, a 13-year-old poodle.

Bailey was one of five dogs selected on Tuesday for a performance of the “Hunting Horn Symphony” on June 9 at Point State Park. The dogs are expected to bark on command in collaboration with four of the symphony's horn soloists.

Cutshall, of Greensburg, said she taught Bailey to speak on command.

Lucy McCloskey of South Park said she didn't use hand signals for her shepherd, Sonny, but rather taught him to speak on a “bark” command.

Ronald Schneider, one of the symphony's horn soloists, knows what it takes to make those signals work, having performed the same piece in 2004 in Heinz Hall.

“You have to get the dog to make noise beginning and stopping with hand signals,” Schneider said. “You want a nice chorus, not just one yap.”

The 10 dogs were pulled from 11 video submissions in which owners had to demonstrate not only that their pet has pipes, but that they could follow commands to sit and pause.

Those commands can be learned, said Dan Rossi, executive director of the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania and one of the judges.

“It can be done, ,” he said. “It can be a little difficult. ”

Bailey and Sonny will join Jetty, Grizzly and Sergeant Preston as the performing pooches.

“He froze up, but I'm going to work with him,” McCloskey said. “I'll always have a recording of him. When I lose him, I can always hear him.”

Fawzi Haimor, resident conductor for the symphony, said it was the first time he'd judged a dog audition.

“Each one is so talented in its own way,” he said. “It's amazing, the different dog sounds there can be.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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