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
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
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,
Dear Friends and Family,
Ensemble Companio is now excitedly looking forward to our fifth season. In the spirit of a “Throwback Thursday,” we wanted to thank you for all you did to make our fourth season so wonderful.
Thank you for supporting Ensemble Companio through a very successful 2015 concert season!
The text from Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas, one of the works we sang last season, is “Ubi caritas at amor, Deus ibi est,” which translates to “Where there is charity and love, God is there.” This captures what I’ve felt about Ensemble Companio from the very beginning: when people who care for one another travel a long way to make something beautiful, it’s an incredibly uplifting—and yes, even spiritual—experience. Regardless of why and how each of us comes to sing with Ensemble Companio, we all have people in the wings: parents who cheer us on, spouses who listen to us practicing and welcome our tired selves back on Sunday nights, neighbors who watch the kids for a weekend, and friends and family who share and spread our enthusiasm. When we gather together for two days every month, it is very much an effort that reaches beyond the singers.
Megan Lemley (alto, Development Chair), Inès Thieme (soprano, past President), Christina Wallace (soprano, Communications Chair), and Julia Hillabrant (alto) share a moment before the Ridgewood, NJ concert in April.
One amazing example of that last season was your overwhelming response to our Annual Campaign, which raised more than $12,000 (and blew away our $10,000 goal)! You helped us build a stronger foundation and presented us with new opportunities, including the initiation of a fund to support singers’ travel, childcare, and other seasonal expenses. On behalf of the officers, I would like to express our joy at being able to offer such support to our singers and our optimism in increasing this support yearly. I hope that, in return, you joined us for a concert and allowed us to share our gratitude through song.
Mikey Steiger (tenor), Evan Crawford (bass, General Manager), Michael Raffaele (bass, Ensemble Advocate), and Greg Pratt (tenor, Secretary) provide a backstage “interlude” between sets.
I’d also like to announce the appointment of Evan Crawford and Christina Wallace to the positions of General Manager and Communications Chair, respectively. Both just completed their first year of singing with Ensemble Companio and jumped right into leadership positions! We are grateful for the dedication and enthusiasm of these two and are excited to work with them to steer Ensemble Companio into this season and beyond.
Finally, for those of you who attended our Brooklyn or Ridgewood concerts, you’ll remember our encore performance of Il bianco e dolce cigno. At the request of an audience member, at our last concert of the season in Philadelphia, we instead closed with “In My Life” and invited the audience to join us. It was such a special encore that we wanted to share it with all of you.
Please join us again in song this season, which includes concerts planned in April and May 2016. The theme will be “Warnings, Widsom, and Wit”, and we can’t wait to see you in the audience! In the meantime (and as always), I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org
All my best,
Dear Friends and Family,
The end of the year is upon us, whether we’re ready or not.
I’ve finally come to believe what my parents have been telling me for years: the more living you do, the more quickly time passes. It’s for this reason that, regardless of whether or not I’m in the right “mood” for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’ve made an effort in recent years to immerse myself in the season. Even when I feel that December has arrived too early—when I haven’t finished all my tasks at work or accomplished my goals for the year—it’s being surrounded by family and friends, enjoying good food and wine, sitting near a fire in the fireplace, and hearing joyful music that make the season real. Once I’m truly “tuned in,” gratitude comes easily for the year’s opportunities and friends, for my successes, failures, and lessons learned.
Ensemble Companio has much to be thankful for in 2014: several fabulous new singers; a fantastic master class with world-renowned American composer, arranger and conductor Alice Parker; the chance to perform in new cities and venues; and an ever-growing circle of support from our audiences and fans. We are grateful for the opportunities we’ve had the privilege of sharing with one another and look forward to what the future will bring.
In my experience, new possibilities for Ensemble Companio have occasionally arisen from unlikely places. This autumn, I had the great fortune to travel to Portugal and Switzerland for work. While in Carouge, a town just south of Geneva, I found myself in an illustrator’s studio looking for a thank-you card. When I explained that I was in a choir and wanted to thank someone who had given us advice, the artist’s face lit up and she began to ask me all sorts of questions about Ensemble Companio: How large was the choir? How long had we been in existence? What sort of music did we sing? And would we be performing in Switzerland? I was delighted at her warm, immediate interest! As I answered her queries as best I could in my rusty French, I explained that we were a regional American choir, but that one day we did indeed hope to perform outside the Northeastern US.
We’d love to present concerts in such places as Chicago, Toronto, San Francisco, and yes, perhaps even Europe and Asia. In fact, we’ve received invitations to perform in many of these places already. We don’t currently have the financial means to tour, but it’s definitely on our wish list (along with many more immediate things, like paying for music licensing fees, venue rental, and singers’ childcare during rehearsals). As you’ve undoubtedly seen, last month we kicked off our first annual Drive to Sing to raise $10,000. Thanks to your generosity, we’re well on our way to meeting that goal by the end of our 2014-2015 season. The Matching Gift Challenge has provided an additional incentive to give before the end of the year, and I do hope you’ll consider it.
In the near future, however, we will do our utmost to bring you authentic, inspiring performances of the finest choral music in locations throughout the Northeast. Our rehearsals through the 2015 concert season will include:
January 10-11, 2015 at Union Memorial Chapel at Union College in Schenectady, NY
(we’ll present a free mini concert Sunday at 12:30pm)
February 7, 2015 at West Side Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood, NJ
February 8, 2015 at Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung, NJ
March 7, 2015 at Saint Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, CT
March 8, 2015 at Atria Stamford in Stamford, CT (we’ll present a free mini concert at 11:30am)
We always welcome your listening in on our rehearsals. As a reminder, our Saturday, March 21, 2015 concert will be in Brooklyn, NY, and our Sunday, April 19, 2015 concert will be in Ridgewood, NJ. As soon as we finalize our May 2015 concert, I will let you know!
Happy Holidays from Ensemble Companio! (Video: Ben Lowe)
Thank you once again for your enthusiasm and support for Ensemble Companio—we are ever so grateful for you. As always, I look forward to reading your thoughts and suggestions at email@example.com