We built a wonderful new bridge last weekend.
Thanks to a grant from ACDA-PA, Ensemble Companio was fortunate enough to welcome the legendary composer, arranger, conductor, and song-leader Alice Parker for a three-hour workshop with us at Swarthmore College. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our singers to receive guidance from a master teacher and luminary in the fields of choral music and folk singing. Alice opened her heart and mind to us, and led the singers with supreme generosity and authority in impromptu singing of folk music and in her own arrangements of American hymn tune Wondrous Love and French folksong Auprès de ma blonde.
What vast wisdom Alice was able to communicate in the span of that afternoon! And what a profound pleasure (and rare chance) for me to hand over the reins, sit back, watch, and listen as Ensemble Companio beautifully responded to such a seasoned and knowledgeable leader. Alice drew new sounds from the singers and changed the way they thought about singing and musically answering melody. I smiled as I watched one “Ah-ha!” moment after another light up the singers’ faces. I laughed with her and the singers as she set us straight on questions of interpretation in her arrangements.Mostly, though, I felt deep joy and gratitude that Alice was able to come work with us, and certainty that the singers will carry the lessons she taught — particularly regarding the inadequacy of musical notation as a representation of music — into all of the music we are presently preparing, and into all music they’ll sing in the future. These feelings resonated through our entire weekend of rehearsal as singers shared, in conversation and on social media, their overwhelmingly positive reflections on Alice’s work with us. “My mind is only blown like that about once a year,” quipped one of our tenors.
“There’s nothing I’d rather do,” Alice told me afterward,” than spend an afternoon making beautiful music with people.” We feel the same way, which is why our mission statement emphasizes the bridge-building between people that choral music-making at its finest can effect. There is no greater pleasure to us as a group than connecting with others and opening the doors of communication between people through music and singing. Alice is a kindred spirit to Ensemble Companio — a living embodiment of our mission. In her workshop she gave us some wonderful new tools for understanding and singing melody. We’re looking forward to using those to build and strengthen bridges to our listeners as this season unfolds and beyond.