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