Dear Ensemble Companio Community,
I hope you’re all healthy and enjoying the beginning of Spring! Tomorrow is our first full concert for the 2022-2023 season, entitled I Flow/I AM. It also marks the beginning of the end of my time as the President of Ensemble Companio’s Board. I want to share some thoughts with you about these last three years.
Shortly after I became President-Elect of the Board in March 2020, news broke that a novel coronavirus named COVID-19 had spread beyond its initial outbreak. Cases had been detected in the United States. Ensemble Companio canceled its March 2020 concert given concerns for the safety of our members and audiences. Shortly thereafter, we, like just about everyone else here in the United States, began a two-week quarantine to “flatten the curve.” That went the way we all remember. We canceled our entire 2019-2020 concert season. Weeks of quarantine turned into months. All of us did our best to get through. None of us, thankfully, injected any bleach.
EC’s 2020-2021 concert season (which was, incidentally, our Tenth Anniversary season) was fully remote. We continued to gather once a month, via Zoom, to be and sing together. It was a balm for all of us in an otherwise incredibly lonely, frightening, and isolating time. Under the steady guidance of our excellent Artistic Director, Erik Peregrine, we broke new ground as an organization with recording, remote collaboration, and streamed performances. And unlike far too many performing arts organizations, we were, through the dedication of our members and volunteer Board, the quality of Erik’s leadership, and the generosity of you, our community, able to come through that more than a year without in-person performances intact.
We returned to in-person rehearsals for our triumphant Eleventh Anniversary season in the Fall of 2021. Being back together was–not to overstate things–glorious. As many of you know, I’ve been a choral singer now for over thirty years. Before March 2020, I hadn’t gone for more than two months without experiencing the elation that comes with feeling my voice blending with the voices of other singers since I was nine years old. Rehearsing with my friends, feeling all the joys of singing with EC again after 17 hard months, brought me so much happiness. I know our members had similar experiences of being restored by our community and the opportunity it provides for artistry. The 2021-2022 season added new joys, too. Chief among those was the debut of our first commissioned piece, The Garden, by Carlos Cordero, and our renewed commitment, under Erik’s direction, to performing works by composers from communities that have been wrongfully excluded from the traditional Western choral canon.
During this 2022-2023 season, we have deepened our commitment to our mission of building bridges through authentic, inspiring performances of the finest choral music. We have not only continued our efforts to highlight the works of excluded composers, but focused on outreach to young singers through a workshop with the William Floyd High School Chorus (directed by our very own Donia Rivera) and, tomorrow, a workshop and joint performance with the Rensselaer Concert Choir. We are thrilled to be able to not only continue, but strengthen our charitable mission. We believe it is ever more important at a time when marginalized and oppressed peoples in the United States are being targeted specifically through legislated bans on public artistry. Our pursuit of that mission would not be possible without the incredible dedication of our singers, the quality and constancy of Erik’s artistic direction, and your ongoing support.
I hope to see you at our performances this year:
Finally, regardless of whether you are able to see us perform, I hope that you will continue your financial support of Ensemble Companio, and particularly our Joseph Gregorio Artistic Director Fund. I firmly believe that Ensemble Companio would not have survived the last three years without Erik’s guidance, commitment to musical excellence, and skill at eliciting our best as performers. The Artistic Director Fund has been critical in keeping them at our helm.
Thank you for the support that has sustained and nurtured Ensemble Companio over these last 13 years. It is a constant source of comfort and pride for me to be part of our joyful community.
Yours in song,
How does one speak to how the world has changed since we last shared live music with you? Where does one even begin? It seems almost easier to recount the things which haven’t been radically altered. And yet, even after all this time, I am once again thrilled to share news of our upcoming concerts with you. It is strange how normal this feels, and yet how precious.
Our 2021-2022 program, “Heavenly Home,” explores the complex joy of (re)defining home and belonging amidst upheaval. In a way, this season’s repertoire shares threads of our ensemble’s pandemic story, weaving together music that we had prepared to perform in 2020, music that we explored together virtually in 2021, and music fresh to this 2021-2022 season. Behind our performances this season are the ghosts of canceled concerts, of fear and uncertainty and Zoom and loss and isolation and the endless stream of heartbreaking changes we have endured. Behind them, too, is the love through which we have persisted.
“…look what happens with a love like that!”
In September 2021, we shared our first live rehearsal since March 2020. We had not seen each other for a year and a half. The absolute and overwhelming joy of being together again–changed, certainly, and yet still connected–was (is) indescribable.
This April, we will share our first season concert since March 2019. It has been three years. Perhaps there is nothing I could write to adequately capture the spirit of this moment. Thankfully, we deal not only in words, but in music too.
“Come to my garden…”
The repertoire we will share with you in “Heavenly Home” is both exhilarating and poignant. Highlights include Betty Jackson King’s stunning setting of Psalm 57, Shawn Kirchner’s beloved Heavenly Home triptych, and a host of lush choral works from across time and place by Shavon Lloyd, Reena Esmail, Zhou Long, Michael Bussewitz-Quarm, and Caroline Shaw, among others. Another triumph of this upcoming season is the long-awaited world premiere of Carlos Cordero’s “Garden,” originally commissioned to celebrate our 10th Anniversary Season in 2020-2021. Though Carlos and I could never have predicted the way events would unfold since beginning our collaboration together, “Garden” somehow speaks even more profoundly in the wake of our past three years. While we lost the opportunity to share our milestone tenth season with you, we couldn’t be more excited to celebrate our fittingly unconventional 11th Anniversary Season this spring.
In the wise words of one of our founding members, “our anniversaries go up to eleven.”
This season is first and foremost a celebration. Since September, we have celebrated the blessing of coming home to each other. Now, we finally celebrate coming home to you.
We are thrilled to welcome you again so very soon.
In love and gratitude,
Erik Peregrine, DMA
I am so grateful to share with you that even though Ensemble Companio was unable to meet in person this season, we had a rich and innovative year together. It was, in fact, a landmark season for us in many ways. We produced our first alumni virtual choir video, our first virtual holiday special, and experimented with all sorts of virtual rehearsal strategies. We collaboratively recorded about 30 minutes of music with a platform called Soundtrap (more on that later). We focused on connective opportunities in our digital format by hosting conversations with a number of inspiring and far-flung guests, including Joe Gregorio, Saunder Choi, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, Jocelyn Hagen, and Carlos Cordero. We even arranged post-rehearsal happy hours and an end-of-season salon!
But most importantly, every month we came together (virtually) and we sang.
One of the things I love most about Ensemble Companio is our process-focused, relational orientation to making music together. This spring, we decided to pivot away from producing virtual choir videos and chose instead to focus on collaborating in Soundtrap. Soundtrap is a virtual recording studio that allows singers to record their own tracks while listening to the tracks their fellow singers have already recorded—still not a synchronous experience like a live rehearsal, but the platform let us hear each other’s voices during the process. That may not sound like much, but consider the timeline of typical virtual choir projects: each singer individually records and submits a polished version of their part, the editor combines all of these solo tracks, various digital miracles occur, and then some number of weeks later the completed video is ready. Essentially, singers hear themselves alone (a nerve-wracking experience!) and then a fully mastered product. Soundtrap, on the other hand, allowed us to have a more organic process: to listen to the ensemble’s real voices at every point along the journey, hone in on particular musical moments, record and re-record small sections, and work together towards artistic goals in (almost) real time.
We’d like to share part of our last few months with you, our Soundtrap recording of “Hands” by Minnesota-based composer Jocelyn Hagen. This project was prepared collaboratively in Soundtrap during Spring 2021, and you’ll hear it here in all of its unpolished glory. Above the background clicks and other extraneous noises, you’ll hear the beautiful sound of voices in community. You’ll hear us reaching out across the distance to one another—and reaching out to welcome you. I hope you enjoy this window into our year together.
It has been quite the year of “firsts” for us, and I have to say, hopefully also a year of “lasts.” At this point, we are looking forward to a live concert season in Spring 2022 and we’re in the process of exploring our options for rehearsals beginning in September. We can’t wait to share our very special 11th Anniversary Season with you this coming year, including the world premiere of “The Garden,” our anniversary commission by Carlos Cordero. There is so much to look forward to, and we are so grateful for your continued support as we envision what our next eleven years will hold. Here’s to everything that comes next, and to the prospect of (finally) sharing live music with you in the months to come!
Wishing you all health, happiness, and the very best of summers,
As events surrounding COVID-19 (coronavirus) continue to unfold, Ensemble Companio has decided to cancel our upcoming concerts on March 28 in Brookline, MA, and April 11 in Averill Park, NY. We will be reaching out individually to all who have purchased tickets shortly to discuss your options. As of now, our May concert in New York City will proceed as planned—we will continue to follow developments closely, and reassess our plans in the coming weeks.
The ensemble has worked incredibly hard this season preparing our performance of Journeys, and we are so proud of the strong and deep music-making and community-building we have done this season! Limiting our options to share this wonderful program with all of you has been a heart wrenching decision to make, but ultimately the right one. Our greatest responsibility during this challenging time is to ensure the health and safety of our members and our communities.
Like many arts organizations, concert revenue is overwhelmingly our largest source of income, and these cancellations will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on our organization. Despite this, we are committed to the financial support of our artistic leadership, regardless of how many concerts we are able to perform. Now more than ever, we are dependent on community support as we navigate these unknown waters. If you would like to contribute, donations to our Artistic Director fund can be made here. Our sincerest gratitude in advance for your continued support and generosity!
Above all else, please stay safe, take care of yourselves and your loved ones! Although we are actively practicing social distancing, the love and support within this community is stronger than ever. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the best,
The Board of Ensemble Companio:
Mikey Steiger, President
Allison Bailey, General Manager
Katie DiMaria, Development Chair
Emily Higgins, Communications Chair
Kara Li, Treasurer
Greg Pratt, Secretary
Kimberly Rice-Smith, Ensemble Advocate
Ensemble Companio’s ability to exist at all is anchored to a pervasive sense of hospitality and trust in one another. We are a widespread community, and during our rehearsal weekends together we are—more often than not—guests in someone else’s home. This is true in both literal and metaphorical senses; choral singing is, on a fundamental level, rooted in the the same sort of profound trust that fortifies us to collectively trek thousands of miles each month to our fellow Companios’ houses across the Northeast, receiving and being received by turns. To be vocal together is to be vulnerable together, to—for a time—allow the roads that we walk as individuals to converge so that we may hold space for each other’s joys and struggles, and in these, seek meaning together in threads of song.
“Look what happens with a love like that…”
The journey of human experience is seldom linear, often folding back upon itself, leaping forward by turns, or suddenly breaking off towards an unforeseen horizon. I think of Benjamin Britten writing “Hymn to St. Cecilia” on his way back across the Atlantic in the midst of World War II, knowing that trials for avoiding military service awaited both he and his partner. I think also of the words of Mirem de Ondiz as set by Carlos Cordero which sit with oft-unseen complexities of immigration, of all that has been gained and of all that has been left behind. I think of the futility and resolve of Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem Sympathy, of the ecstatic longing that imbues the American shape-note tradition, of death that transforms the living as much as it does the deceased, and of the resilience of the multitudes who have tread this earth before us. Music is intrinsically of and for all of these journeys—a vessel of connection, a fire in which purpose can be distilled and carried forward. Music is for making sense of chaos. Music is for now.
“…I cry because of such uncertainty…”
“Oh wear your tribulation like a rose….”
“I know why the caged bird sings.”
Our 2019-2020 concert season, Journeys, is a meditation on the creation of meaning—individually and collectively—throughout the uncertainties of human existence. A varied and colorful program, musical highlights range from Benjamin Britten’s celebrated Hymn to St. Cecilia and lesser-known works by Reena Esmail, Salamone Rossi, and Fanny Mendelssohn to settings of familiar American tunes by Moses Hogan and Jocelyn Hagen, among others. This season’s repertoire crosses through a broad spectrum of emotion and experience, seeking understanding through both the unknown and the familiar, ultimately calling upon us to meet all of our “fellow travelers” with the same hospitality of spirit that lends choral singing its transformative potential.
We are so excited to share our journey with you in the coming months.
Warm wishes for the road ahead,