Dear Friends and Family,
If you read Ensemble Companio’s blog, you’ll know that I finally married my husband, Evan Crawford, this past September, after a year’s delay due to Covid.
Evan and I met in 2014, when I was President of Ensemble Companio (EC) and he joined the group in the autumn, for season four. He became General Manager shortly thereafter, and continued to serve the group in that capacity even when he moved to Vienna, Austria. When I joined him there after a year in Zurich, Switzerland, we were disappointed to find that even in a cultural capital of Europe, we could not find a group comparable to EC, in the variety of repertoire, the dedication to excellence, or the empathy and kindness of the singers. I am sorry to say that neither of us has been singing regularly for at least three years. It has made our lives lonelier, less creative, less beautiful and less meaningful. During the pandemic, we have felt this absence–of connection through song–acutely.
It was a balm to the senses, then, when we finally gathered in Tupper Lake, New York in late summer. From the time Evan and I were together in EC, it was never a question that we would ask our dear friends to sing at our wedding. That September day, when I heard them rehearsing “You are the New Day” for the first time in years, I burst into tears. Since moving to Vienna, I’ve struggled with depression, lack of motivation, and loneliness, and have acquired a very surprising yet thorough understanding that how much one likes (or doesn’t like) the place one lives powerfully influences one’s outlook. Like all human experiences, “living abroad” cannot be painted with one brush for every participant; my experience as an expat in Vienna is one of the greatest challenges of my life.
Our wedding weekend was a beautiful three days in my favorite place on Earth. However, the thing that I will always remember was how I felt being surrounded by “my people” after such a long separation. I was reminded of how important being physically near those you love is, for anchoring, for sanity, for belonging and for understanding. As soon as I returned to Vienna, I planned my next visit to the United States, centered around an EC rehearsal in Schenectady, New York. My mom and I quietly walked into that rehearsal and sat in the back, soaking in the beautiful harmonies of songs we’d never heard. It was nothing short of a spiritual experience. Once again I felt the pull to participate, which was not new, but there was something else this time: it was a homecoming call, an invitation to return, a chorus of voices saying “you belong.” The old adage is true, you don’t really miss what you have until it’s gone. There’s been a hole in my heart since I left, and it’s time to fill it in.
My best friends tease me that I refuse to participate in anything that doesn’t have the potential to be “life-changing.” Singing in EC might be the thing I’ve done that’s been the most life-changing: it kept me sane when work was the very opposite, served as solace when relationships were imploding, kept my friends moving forward through divorces, experiences with illness and death, and other challenging times, and of course was the place I met the man who would become my husband. I can’t imagine anything more life-changing than that.
The unique model for this group means the participants work hard to make something beautiful, and in doing so are willing to go a little outside the box considered “normal.” Beyond that, however, I think the most wonderful thing about EC is the empathy the singers have for one another. When I hopped in the car with several singers to travel to Pennsylvania after that Schenectady rehearsal, they invited me to “tell [them] everything.” We spent the next three hours sharing stories and struggles, listening, laughing, and asking for (and kindly giving) advice. There is a level of trust among the singers—even from the newer members—that I find rare. It is such a relief to find an immediate “safe space” after months of solitude, where one’s experiences are welcomed and one’s requests for help gently honored.
Over the years, I know you’ve heard testimony from lots of singers about how EC has changed their lives. Once again, I’m adding my voice to the mix. In what looks to be the third year of the pandemic, after so much isolation and ongoing confusion, I cannot imagine a better recipient for our support. Please join me in sponsoring Ensemble Companio, and ensuring that this beautiful, life-changing group continues for years to come.
Yours in song,
Cailin Wilke, Alto & Former President