From the Director: Thoughts on charting a course — in song, and in life — and an invitation to Warnings, Wisdom, and Wit

Cape Cod Bay, as viewed from the beach in Truro, MA — one of our favorite rehearsal locations

 

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!)

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Throwback Thursday with our President

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.

EC Women

 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.

 

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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 president@ensemblecompanio.org.

All my best,

Cailin

CMW

Announcing our new Assistant Conductor: Michael Weinberg!

Michael Weinberg

Michael WeinbergMichael WeinbergWe are very excited to welcome Michael Weinberg to Ensemble Companio as our first Assistant Conductor. As we begin our fifth season and we continue to grow in many ways, we are elated to be able to add this role to our musical staff, alongside Artistic Director Joseph Gregorio and Vocal Coach Julie Gregorio.

Originally from the Washington, DC area, Michael Weinberg is a versatile conductor, singer, and teacher based in Boston, MA. He has appeared with numerous professional organizations, including the Oregon Bach Festival, The Philadelphia Singers, and Washington National Opera, and has performed in many prestigious venues across the United States and Europe. He recently made his solo debut in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center with the Yale Schola Cantorum under the direction of Masaaki Suzuki. Equally passionate about teaching as well as performing, Weinberg is currently Visiting Director of Music of the Commonwealth School (Boston), and has previously served as a teaching assistant and conductor of various collegiate and high school ensembles. His conducting teachers include Marguerite Brooks, Jeffrey Douma, David Hill, Paul Rardin, and Thea Kano. He holds an M.M. in choral conducting from Temple University, a B.M. summa cum laude in vocal performance from The Catholic University of America, and has completed the course requirements for the D.M.A. in choral conducting from Yale University.

But enough from us – let’s let Michael introduce himself!

Dear Friends,

It is my pleasure to introduce myself to you and say how excited I am to join the Ensemble Companio family as their first Assistant Conductor! Having already experienced one rehearsal weekend, family is the best word I can use to describe Ensemble Companio. Throughout the weekend I heard heartwarming stories of singers gathering in between rehearsal weekends, attending one another’s weddings, or supporting those experiencing difficult times. Though many members knew each other before joining EC, they make everyone feel welcome and a part of the family from the very beginning.

During my interview and audition for the position, I asked the members who were present why they choose to sing in a group such as this, one where you give up an entire weekend per month and travel a couple, or sometimes several hours away for rehearsal. For most, it is the special bond of music that drives their dedication to the ensemble. Being in EC provides a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in music making for a whole weekend, kind of like going to District or All-State chorus in high school once a month, only on a smaller scale and with people who become your close friends. Many community choruses focus on large choral/orchestral works and may contain upwards of 100-200 singers, compared to singing with a chamber ensemble like EC, which focuses on a cappella singing and allows for a more intimate music-making experience.

I’m very grateful to Joe Gregorio for this opportunity, and I’m looking forward to a fantastic year of working with and learning from him and the rest of Ensemble Companio. I also hope to meet many of you at our concerts in April and May!

Best wishes,
Michael

A Holiday Message from the President

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.

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Alice Parker and Director Joseph Gregorio celebrate a wonderful master class at Swarthmore College. (Photo: Ben Lowe)

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.

One day.

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.

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A gorgeous choral thank-you card from Switzerland!           (Card: Percho)

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 president@ensemblecompanio.org.  May you find yourself surrounded by family, friends, and beautiful music this holiday season.

Warmest wishes,

Cailin

CMW

A New Bridge

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.

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A Letter From the President

Dear Friends and Family,

Welcome to a new year with Ensemble Companio! We invite you to join us for our fourth season, and are profoundly grateful for your support and encouragement in seasons past.

My name is Cailin Wilke and I will be serving as Ensemble Companio’s President for the next three seasons. During the week I’m a scientific director at a medical strategy firm, and I’ve been spending my weekends singing Alto with Ensemble Companio since 2012.

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This is Your Chance!

We’re recruiting tenors and basses for our 2014-2015 season! If you are (or someone you know is) a talented singer and love(s) to travel, please let us know by sending us a message using the form below. We can’t wait to hear from you! Read more

A Peek Inside Ensemble Companio

I came to Ensemble Companio as a mid-season replacement – an always nerve-wracking experience. Would I be able to learn all of the music in time for performances? Could I fit in with an established group that had already been working and performing together?  At the first rehearsal, everyone in the group welcomed me with open arms, and I immediately felt like we were all old friends. The weekend intensive rehearsals have become a welcome retreat that I look forward to all month. And the music-making? In my 15 years of choral singing, both professionally and not,  I have never experienced an equal to the quality of the singing we do in EC. I have never attempted to sing choral music from memory before, and now that I have, using the score almost feels like cheating! There is something truly magical that happens when 24 people come together to make music with nothing but Joe’s skilled baton between us and the audience. We listen, we communicate, we connect with ourselves and the audience in a way that’s truly exciting!

Telling the Forest From the Trees

There are a handful of important life skills that I’ve come to value as I am decidedly in the adult phase of my life (my three small children are a constant reminder of this fact). Being able to manage expectations – others’ as well as our own – is up there. As is the ability to tap into our reserves of patience and poise when they seem to have run out. Another important skill is the ability to tell the forest from the trees and vice a versa. Myself, I am more of a tree person. I am detail oriented and hands-on. I am impulsive and short sighted. It takes a lot of work for my brain to zoom out and look at the big picture. Thankfully, the officers of Ensemble Companio consist of a lot of forest people. Our founder and director, Joseph Gregorio, has a fine-tuned sense of perspective. Read more