We close the first half of this season’s concert, Journeys, with one of my favorites: Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia. My introduction to this piece was also my introduction to choral singing, when I joined the university choir in my first semester of college. I have to confess that I only signed up as a requirement of my major, initially viewing choral singing as nothing more than another credit to be earned. But Britten soon changed my mind. From the first measure, the depth of harmony and poetry working together was a revelation. I was blown away at how the 4 voice parts come together to form something greater than the individual parts. By the end of rehearsal, I remember thinking, “I’ve found my people.”
Starting college in a new place with new people is a rough transition for most; mine was made more difficult when my father lost his battle to cancer in the second week of the semester. As an already painfully shy person, being thrust into a new school with unfamiliar people and simultaneously having to come to terms with the first big loss in my life was an overwhelming prospect. But like St. Cecilia, who “poured forth her song in perfect calm,” I discovered that through singing my grief, anxiety, and uncertainty all faded into catharsis. My journey that first year mirrored the journey of the piece, as the tenor soloist reaches the climax of the hymn with my favorite line, “O wear your tribulation like a rose!” In other words, own your suffering, celebrate the journey that got you here. And so when I reflect on the question of why I sing, the answer is simple: It’s my therapy.
Ensemble Companio creates exactly the right conditions for this kind of healing singing. Our rehearsal weekends once a month function like retreats: closed in a rehearsal room with 24 of your friends, phones away, shut off from the world of work and obligations, with nothing to do for two days but make incredible music together. What I love about our season-long concert cycle is the ability to spend time not only learning notes and honing our ensemble, but also to put our music aside, and share. It’s not uncommon for laughter and tears to accompany our rehearsal discussions as we delve together into what the words on the page really mean to us. That connection – the bridge we build between each other – takes the experience to another level entirely.
Our Communications Chair, alto Emily Higgins, has coined a phrase to describe what we do: radical collective intimacy. In an increasingly divided and self-absorbed world, it is a radical act to share each other’s burdens the way Ensemble Companio does. What a gift to be able to turn stress, sorrow, and pain into joy, love, and community. It’s become our practice to close every rehearsal weekend by singing Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas, as a reminder of the love we create when we come together, and to take it with us as we return to the real world.
The love and fellowship we build also extends beyond our immediate members. If you’ve been following us this season, you’ll know we launched a competition to commission a new work for our 10th Anniversary Season next year. We were simply overwhelmed with the amazing response of applicants we received! Our mission and our call to collaborate with those who are underrepresented in the choral world clearly resonated deeply with the composer community. It has also given us a wonderful way to invite in four of our alumni Companios to shape the musical future of EC by serving on the jury. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to make a space to collaborate with living artists to create something new and special next season. I can’t wait for us to announce the winner, and begin the work of bringing new art into the word.
Today we celebrate Giving Tuesday with the launch of our annual Drive to Sing. I’ve shared a little about why I sing in the hope that you will find Ensemble Companio a worthy cause to give of yourself to. Quite simply, none of this would be possible without the support of generous donors like you.
Gifts of any amount are welcome through our Drive to Sing campaign website – making up over 80% of our annual budget. You can also support us by purchasing our latest album: Warnings, Wisdom, and Wit, now available on our website, or anywhere you download music.
And of course, we also hope you and your friends will join us for our spring concerts, which we’ll be announcing in the new year!
Thank you for being a part of Ensemble Companio, and for helping us keep this incredible musical family singing.
With love and gratitude,
President, Ensemble Companio
As our 8th season comes to a close we have much to celebrate! We are thrilled to announce that thanks to our generous alumni donors Cailin Wilke, Evan Crawford, Mark Sayre, and an anonymous donor, every donation towards the Joseph Gregorio Artistic Director Fund up to $5,000 will be matched dollar for dollar, and any recurring gift will be matched at TWO to one!
Culminating his second season with Ensemble Companio, Artistic Director Erik Peregrine has embodied the ensemble’s mission to both grow and share our passion for musical excellence; and we are excited to report that thanks to his singular artistry, inspirational programming, and passionate leadership, Ensemble Companio has been selected as a finalist for the 2019 Community Chorus American Prize.
Ensemble Companio formed the Joseph Gregorio Artistic Director Fund in 2016 to give our community the opportunity to provide targeted support for our greatest and most important annual investment: musical leadership. Named in honor of Ensemble Companio’s visionary Founding Artistic Director, the Joseph Gregorio Artistic Director Fund was conceived to secure the future of the chorus for many years to come.
Our season ends June 30 and we are still striving to reach our season’s $15,000 fundraising goal. Consider making a gift to the Joseph Gregorio Artistic Director Fund today and help underwrite the artistic direction of our tomorrow and see your generosity matched at either 1:1 or at 2:1 for recurring gifts.
Thank you for supporting Ensemble Companio,
Art never exists in a vacuum; it is intimately tied to the human context in which it is made and observed. Choral music only comes into existence through the voices of living, breathing, phonating human beings – in Ensemble Companio’s case, twenty-five highly skilled singers with twenty-five sets of life experiences who converge once a month somewhere in the Northeastern United States. Then there’s the composer, the poet, the listeners (hopefully you!), the location, the date…
Our collective context is a nation grappling with its conscience.
As we move through each day, we are all faced with a constant barrage of choices: between love and fear, compassion and greed, to welcome or to withhold. In order to comprehend our full potential for good, we must also acknowledge our ability to harm. We must wrestle with the difficult parts of our psyches, the ugly faults we prefer to ignore, our capacities for cruelty and indifference. If we recognize that in each moment lies a choice, then we become aware that our destinies emerge through the aggregate of our choices – destinies extending beyond us as individuals into the courses of families, communities, nations, our species, our planet. Ripples of responsibility, for better or for worse, bond our fates to one another.
What if we all chose to love?
Perhaps it’s not that simple…but what if we believed it could be? How would we change by committing to love – in all of its forms, however small – again and again?
Failed Saints explores what it means to be human in a time of inhumanity, probing our mortal imperfections, our shared divinity, and ultimately our power to co-create the world as we wish it existed. Featuring the world premiere of two selections from Sarah Rimkus’s eponymous Failed Saints (as well as several regional and state premieres), other musical highlights include Alberto Ginastera’s Lamentations of Jeremiah, Saunder Choi’s The New Colossus, and works by Melissa Dunphy, Sydney Guillaume, Mari Ésabel Valverde, and Carol Barnett, among others. This music traverses the darkest and brightest parts of human experience, holding space along the way for rage, grief, transformation, catharsis, and healing.
In keeping with our mission of “building bridges”, I am thrilled to tell you that we’ll be joined in concert by VOICES Boston on Sunday, April 28th. We first met with these fantastic young singers last November and were so inspired by their poise, passion, and musical sophistication. I hope you’ll be able to join us; even if you’re outside the Boston area, it will assuredly be worth the journey.
If Boston is a little too far from home, I look forward to seeing you in New York (March 30th), Rhode Island (April 27th), or Philadelphia (May 11th) for this unique and powerful program.
With great love,
On behalf of Ensemble Companio, I hope you are having a wonderful Fall! While you were enjoying the crisp autumn air – and pumpkin spice everything – we began our eighth season with rehearsal retreats in New York and Pennsylvania. We welcomed five new Companios into the fold, and set about the process of delving into the musical world curated for us by our artistic director, Erik Peregrine. We’ll be presenting the works of ten living composers this season, finding inspiration in the fact that our art is still keenly alive, and the finest choral music is still being written.
In this year’s program, entitled Failed Saints, we will explore the darkness and the light that exists within each of us. Anger & fear fill the daily headlines in this increasingly divided world we live in. Our season grapples with the idea that each day we have a choice: to feed the rage within us, or to choose to counteract it with compassion and love. Failed Saints explores our shared imperfections, our shared humanity and divinity, and our collective power to create the world we wish to live in.
It is probably too early in the season to have a favorite piece, but Saunder Choi’s stunning new setting of The New Colossus speaks this message most clearly to me. We all know by heart the famous excerpt from the sonnet written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, and set in bronze on the base of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
To be honest, at first, I embraced the darkness with this one. A patriotic song feels like an odd choice at this moment in history, when we’re at each other’s throats on a daily basis.
The piece contains a rhythmic pulse throughout that is constantly moving and changing – devilishly tricky to master, but so satisfying when it all comes together. We spent a good amount of time working on it as a choir and in sectionals last rehearsal weekend, which gave me a lot of time to reflect on the text. I found myself getting a little choked up at the words, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door,” a beautiful message of welcome to all, set to a soaring melodic line introduced by the tenors and basses, echoed by the sopranos and altos, and building to a crescendo by the chorus as one. In that moment, I recognize anew the land that I love – an America that works together toward a common goal, each voice clearly defined on its own, but each contributing to a beautiful, greater whole. It is an America we can find again, if only we are willing to do the work, on our own and together, to get there.
I continue to find inspiration, season after season, with this wonderful group of musicians. We will be announcing our concert season soon, and I hope you will get the chance to hear and be inspired with us!
President, Ensemble Companio
A belated Happy New Year to you all! I hope your 2018 is off to a great start. I have so much excitement and wonder as I pause to reflect upon the year to come with Ensemble Companio!
We recently kicked off our first rehearsal of 2018 in the Boston metro area – one that we weren’t entirely sure was going to happen as weather reports of winter storm Grayson began predicting the first “snowpocalypse” of the year. Our members braved bitter cold, delays and cancellations of plane, train, and automobile, and still made it to rehearsal on time and excited to sing. It was perhaps fitting that Mother Nature should make her presence known at her fiercest and most beautiful, in a musical season exploring themes of the natural world.
We are now midway through the season. This is my favorite point in the rehearsal process. By now, the notes and rhythms are beginning to feel like second nature, and we can begin the real work of bringing the stories the music holds on the page to life. To that end, our Artistic Director Erik Peregrine set aside time for us to discuss as a group what some of the pieces mean to us, and how they fit into the overarching theme of the concert, The Greening. It is incredible to me how words written by Hildegard of Bingen in the twelfth century, or by Don MacDonald in 2016, can equally inspire us today – how the themes of the human condition are timeless, and cyclical. By the end of rehearsal, Erik needed only remind us to think about the emotional intent behind a piece, and you could instantly hear how the music was elevated by refocusing our intentions. Getting that time to explore deeper meanings in the music is a luxury that is not always afforded to community choirs, but one that I think makes all the difference in musicality.
New member Ashley Prickel-Kane was our host for the weekend, welcoming us into her choir room at Walpole High School. Several of her students joined us in the afternoon to listen in on our rehearsal, followed by a Q&A session where the students were invited to discuss what they heard, and why they are drawn to choral singing. I smiled at how many of the reasons they gave – stress relief, making new friendships, exploring a love of music – could easily have been the answers a member of EC would give for why they sing. One student mentioned how she enjoying the unified sound of the choir, particularly how great it was to hear a full complement of tenor and basses (I don’t want to brag, but we have Walpole choir beat 10 to 5 in the tenor and bass sections). We finished out the day by sight reading selections from the Walpole choir’s repertoire together, which gave us a chance to fearlessly showcase our mastery of Russian with Pärt’s setting of Bogoroditse Devo (it helped that we had just sung the famous Rachmaninoff setting of the same text last season). It’s hard to tell who enjoyed the afternoon more: the young women of Walpole choir, or Ensemble Companio. Smiles, laughter, and joy was shared by all. It was exactly the kind of heart-warming needed on a blustery January Saturday.
Some Boston-area EC alumni also stopped in to say hello and catch up with members old and new. We always love seeing former and prospective members, and I would encourage you to reach out when we’ll be in your area! You have two more chances to catch us in rehearsal: February 3-4 in Brooklyn, NY, and March 3-4 in the Philadelphia metro. Drop us a line for more details, we’d love to see you!
To top off an incredible weekend, Erik stayed behind to work in some studio time, editing our album that was recorded at the end of season 5. We are so grateful to him for giving more of his time to help us finish and release our first studio album! Watch this space for updates about the release in the future.
Concert tickets will be going on sale soon! We hope you will join us on this musical journey of The Greening. Stay tuned for further concert announcements.
March 24, 7:30pm
Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church, 152 W 66th St, New York, NY
Washington, DC – more info to come!
May 12, 7:00pm
St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, 82 Shore Rd, Old Lyme, CT
On this shortest day of the year, it is with great joy that I write to you for the first time – and about the season’s music, no less!
Reflecting on repertoire over this past summer, themes of reincarnation kept insistently rising to the surface. This year clearly marks a new beginning for both Ensemble Companio and myself, but the excitement of fresh opportunities comes too with the acknowledgment that we are creating music together in volatile times. We may not know what the future holds, but we will (in all likelihood) still share the same earth.
As a Pacific Northwesterner, the natural world has always been a source of awe and inspiration to me. Wandering in the old growth rain forests I used to call home, one cannot help but be amazed at the beautiful intricacy of Life, each being governed by their own individual cycles but somehow also co-creating the great, green harmony of the woods. The ancient and the new feed each other. There is both overwhelming energy and profound stillness. St. Hildegard of Bingen, the medieval mystic whose antiphon O Frondens Virga opens the second half of the program, describes this permeating life-essence as “viriditas”, or living greenness. Sitting near one of the many lakes close to my current home in Minneapolis, I was struck by the sameness of water, light, soil, and grasses – “viriditas” itself – across the thousands of miles now separating me from those dense forests; an apt metaphor for Ensemble Companio’s unusual rehearsal structure perhaps, but also the thread on which to pull for our first season together.
The Greening explores the parallels between human experience and the cycles of the natural world – through darkness into light, through winter into spring, through loss into renewal.
A blurring of opposites – old and new, sacred and secular, universal and highly personal – runs throughout the program; listeners will hear Josquin des Prez’s seamlessly cyclical Salve Regina alongside Edie Hill’s translucent We Bloomed in Spring, Tomás Luis de Victoria’s beloved O Vos Omnes alongside recent works by Jussi Chydenius and Don Macdonald, and Dale Trumbore’s Spiritus Mundi, a luminous setting of a text by contemporary poet Amy Fleury inspired by Renaissance composer Orlando de Lassus, among other gems. One particular under-performed jewel in this year’s repertoire is Abbie Betinis’ God of Owls, which sets an anonymous poet’s prayer that we may be prevented “from being blind to what we’re afraid to see” atop a thorny bramble of low voices and haunting bird calls. The course of the program meanders through awe, sadness, and mystery to hope and healing, meditating on the myriad ways we ourselves are reflected in nature throughout the journey.
Mark your calendars for The Greening:
March 24-25 – New York
April 28-29 – DC
May 12-13 – Connecticut shore
More specific information about locations, venues, etc. will be available in the new year, so be sure to keep an eye out for another note from us! As always, you are more than welcome to join us for one of our rehearsal weekends; email us at email@example.com and we’ll provide you with more details about when we’ll be in your area.
Though today’s solstice marks the first official day of winter (which is certainly evident here in Minnesota!), it also marks the beginning of the sun’s gradual return. May you find peace and joy in each day’s growing light, and I hope to see you in a few short months for The Greening!
All my best,
A new season is upon us, and with that, some new faces and new beginnings! My name is Mikey Steiger, and after four seasons of singing in the tenor section, I am joining the Board as the third President of Ensemble Companio (I’ll still moonlight as a tenor – never fear!).
Last weekend, we began our seventh season by welcoming our new Artistic Director, Erik Peregrine, into the Ensemble Companio family. After a long and productive day of charging fearlessly through the repertoire for this year, we gathered for the traditional dinner and fellowship at a nearby member’s house. Our Founding Director, Joe Gregorio, stopped by with his family, and there in the kitchen (where everything important seems to happen), Joe and Erik met for the first time and greeted each other with open arms. It was a moment of pure happiness and deep gratitude from both. A passing of the batons, from the founder of the group who brought us together and set us on our path, to the new director, whose artistic vision will carry us into the future.
I was immediately transported back to my first rehearsal with Ensemble Companio, in our third season. What I remember most about that first day was the welcome I received, which from the moment I walked in the door was warm, joyful, and all-encompassing. It was like discovering “old friends who’ve just met,” if I may borrow a line from The Muppet Movie. I’ve sung in many different choirs for nearly 20 years now, but never before have I felt so instantly, completely at home as I did and continue to feel from my very first moments with this group. In that moment 4 years ago, and again last weekend, I felt a joy and excitement that I hadn’t expected.
The truth is, I practically had to drag myself to rehearsal last weekend. Stories of anger, of division, of terrible natural disasters and destruction left in their path have been the top headlines this summer. At times, a feeling of hopelessness and despair has drained me to the very core these past few weeks. As Saturday approached, the idea of traveling hours from home and giving up my free time to spend poring over new scores seemed overwhelming, the complete opposite of self-preservation.
It turns out that it was. By which I mean that turning inward was not what I needed at all. I needed to sing, to discover beautiful music that I never knew existed. I needed to forge connections with our new director and new members, and renew those with returning members. By the end of a weekend spent with my amazing fellow singers and our inspiring new Artistic Director, my heart was full to bursting with joy, laughter, and song.
Every year, we form and reform this community of singers – each time new, and yet always somehow the same. As I returned home, I felt open to the world again, ready to face the challenges the next week would present, with a future that has never looked brighter. That is the power of music. That is the power of love, shared with friends old and new. That is the power of community. That is Ensemble Companio.
I am so excited about this season that we are making, friends! I can’t wait to share it with you.
I hope you are all doing well, and enjoying time outside in the gorgeous warm weather we’re having!
It gives me great pleasure to announce that Ensemble Companio has chosen Erik Peregrine as our new Artistic Director.
In his own words:
I am overjoyed to be joining the Ensemble Companio family and to carry on this vibrant tradition of heart-filled choral music in the coming season. Ensemble Companio’s mission of building bridges and human connections through music resonates deeply with my own artistic values, and I am so inspired by the musicians’ dedication to live out this mission in all they do together. I am both thrilled and humbled to be entrusted with artistic stewardship of this unique choral community going forward.
We, too, are overjoyed to welcome Erik into the Ensemble Companio family, and are eager for him to both push our musical boundaries and help us build exciting new bridges. He will begin his tenure as Artistic Director this summer.
For all the hard work, diligent follow-up, respectful debate, and thorough discussions that led us to this point, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the members of the Artistic Director Search Committee, especially my co-chair Mikey Steiger, The Board, and the wonderful singers in Ensemble Companio. I would also like to thank Michael Weinberg for kindly and steadily shepherding the Ensemble through this most recent season. Throughout the entirety of the search, all were patient, thoughtful, and expressed great care for the Ensemble. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to serve as President for the past three years; indeed, it has been an honor.
Since this will be my last message as President of Ensemble Companio, I wanted to share something with you that happened several years ago. In the spring of 2013, when I had just completed my first season with the Ensemble and was serving as Ensemble Advocate, I had the opportunity to attend the annual Chorus America conference in Washington, D.C. The conference was packed with inspiring lectures, round-table discussions, and opportunities to learn from more established groups. There were also “buttonhole interactions”–chances to speak with someone experienced in fundraising/musical direction/board leadership/etc one-on-one, for 15 minutes. I sat down with the then General Manager of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and explained Ensemble Companio’s founding and structure, and our mission. He listened intently, offering sage advice and encouragement. He then asked about our long-term plans. Surrounded by representatives from other choirs that had been operating for 20 or 30 years–some even more–and with budgets much larger than ours, I wasn’t sure what to say. How could a choir like Ensemble Companio–barely 2 years old and with an improbable traveling rehearsal structure–hope to plan 10 or even 5 years out? I started, “Well, I really hope that we’ll be around 5 years from now…” And he answered simply, “You will. Of that I have no doubt.” I was surprised and heartened by his conviction. And he was right.
Here we are, about to begin our seventh season. We have evolved with our membership, we have expanded our Board and our fundraising capacity, we have sung in seven states and Washington, D.C., won awards, completed our first-ever Artistic Director search, and continue to build bridges between people through authentic, inspiring performances of the finest choral music. It’s been an amazing journey–one I now look forward to participating in simply as a singer–and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
In the next few months, a new President will take the reins. We’ll have some new Board members, too, and I can’t wait for you to meet them. As always, we welcome you to contact us with any thoughts or suggestions you have along the way. Clearly, we couldn’t have done all this without your wonderful support: the Ensemble Companio family is incredibly special, and I know I speak for all the members when I say we know how lucky we are to be a part of it. Here’s to the next seven years.
With deepest gratitude,
Ensemble Companio is sailing into its fifth season with the wind at its back.
There is much that is as true of Ensemble Companio now as it was five years ago. We remain wholly committed to and guided by our mission of building bridges between people through authentic, inspiring performances of the finest choral music. We still travel from all over the northeast United States to make music together one weekend per month. We still fuel all of our hard work with delicious muffins baked by soprano section leader Elena Gregorio.
Yet much has changed since we embarked on our first season five years ago. We’ve grown from comprising twenty-one singers in our inaugural season to a group of twenty-seven as we start our fifth. We have hired our first-ever assistant conductor, Michael Weinberg. Thanks to our first annual — and very successful — Drive To Sing fundraising campaign spearheaded by Development Chair and alto Megan Lemley, we have been able to institute what we’re calling a Member Experience Fund, designed to help defray our musicians’ travel and logistical expenses associated with membership in Ensemble Companio. And before the present season began, our officers plotted all sorts of exciting opportunities and goals for the group that would have been all but unthinkable five years ago.
When I meditate on how far we have come in five years, and then think about where the group is bound, I’m overcome with a sense of almost limitless possibility. I also feel deep gratitude toward all the supporters, venues, volunteers, and singers and officers past and present who helped us not merely to stay afloat but to make waves while connecting with hundreds of listeners over the last half decade. We have taught ourselves a great deal while navigating uncharted waters, but we have also benefited greatly from the advice of artistic directors, officers, board members, and singers from more established ensembles — for all of which I am likewise thankful.
Our listeners this season will soon be getting some counsel of their own — in musical form. Warnings, Wisdom, and Wit grew from an idea I had a few years ago to put together a program of works through which composers and/or writers of text give caution, dispense moral advice, or make pithy observations about society and life. Listeners will hear an ancient monodic French song called “L’homme armé” (“The armed man”) warning the listener about one bearing arms, and a movement from a Mass by French Renaissance composer Guillaume Dufay that weaves this monophonic song into the fabric of his polyphonic composition. There will be other sacred works by nineteenth-century German composer Anton Bruckner and late-nineteenth-/early-twentieth-century English composer Charles Villiers Stanford as well. We’ll also perform a piece by contemporary Pennsylvania-based composer Kala Pierson on a Shakespeare text about love; arrangements of folk music from Colombia, England, Ireland, and Mexico; shape-note music from The Sacred Harp; an arrangement of a poignant warning from French singer-songwriter Francis Cabrel about the effect technology can have on communication and memory; and more. Each work on the program is in part or in whole an exhortation or a lesson, be it serious or silly, about how we might best chart a course through life.
I hope that your course will include a stop at one of our concerts this spring. If you can’t make it to a concert, e-mail us about dropping by one of our rehearsals, which are held throughout the northeast United States and which are always open. We look forward to sharing Warnings, Wisdom, and Wit with you!
(And if you’re wondering whence comes all the nautical talk: Though I’ve always thought that a ship is an excellent metaphor for a musical ensemble, I think it owes more at the moment to the fact that this season our tenors and basses will be singing Alice Parker and Robert Shaw’s arrangement of sea chanty What shall we do with the drunken sailor — and that I simply cannot get the tune out of my head!)