Monday, August 28, 2017

Catacoustic Activities this Summer

The activities of your favorite Catacoustic musicians do not stop in the summer between seasons. Summer 2017 has been an unusually eventful one for all of us, so permit me a moment of pride…

Catacoustic Consort Baroque harp player Elizabeth Motter went to Italy this summer to work with Mara Galassi, perhaps the finest Baroque harp player in the world. And, soprano Melissa Harvey spent the summer singing with Cincinnati Opera in roles for their productions of Frida and Song from the Uproar. She sounded great! Melissa, Elizabeth, and I also raised funds for our exciting upcoming CD project, in addition to lots of musical preparation! You will soon be able to watch the video we created (funding from Summerfair and the Ohio Arts Council) with videographer Melissa Godoy on YouTube.

 I was fortunate to have a number of inspirational experiences this summer. It began with a concert tour with the Italian ensemble, Cappella Artemisia. This ensemble is led by groundbreaking performance practice scholar-singer, Candace Smith, who has revolutionized how people perform nuns’ music. We began the tour in Providence, RI at a nunology conference (yes, that is a thing!), where I heard interesting presentations and ran into Craig Monson, who gave a lecture for us here in Cincinnati several years ago. The second stop on our tour was at the University of Oregon, where I stayed with Marc Vanscheeuwijk (a mentor to many Catacoustic musicians), who shared some of his exciting recent research, including a new CD-book set about the curvilinear history of the cello and a project where he and colleagues discovered historic viols that were painted gold to adorn an old organ in Germany. He had the instruments (interesting in their construction) recreated and made a CD with them. Our third stop was in Los Angeles, where we played at the beautiful campus of Mount St. Mary’s University, and their girls’ choir sang with us. We traveled to UCLA Irvine, where I met another brilliant nunologist scholar, Colleen Reardon. From there we flew to the Center at Donaldson, IN – a beautiful convent among the cornfields! It was great to play nuns’ music for nuns, and I loved hearing one of the audience members call out, “go, nuns!” Our final stop was in Lancaster, PA, where Candy’s husband Bruce Dickey (cornetto player who played with Catacoustic) joined us for a nice visit. It was such a pleasure to work with these talented ladies, who have an intimate understanding of the Italian language and its music.

The next happy event of the summer was learning that my dear friend Joanna Blendulf was hired to teach viola da gamba and Baroque cello at Indiana University! What a great choice that was for the school, and it is wonderful to have her and her husband (who has sung with Catacoustic several times) Aaron Cain living nearby! If we are lucky, we will have Joanna gracing our stage much more in the future.

My next stop was at the Boston Early Music Festival, where my mentor Tina Chancey directed a pardessus de viole symposium. This was my first time at BEMF, and I marveled at turning around every moment to run into colleagues – some whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years! On the other hand, I started the festival by coincidentally sitting next to Dr. Michael Unger, harpsichord professor at CCM! It was thrilling to meet pardessus players and scholars from all over the world who have led me along on my own journey with this instrument. The concerts and opera at BEMF were memorable and renewing, including an ornate French Baroque opera (with many Catacoustic musicians), Handel’s Resurrezione, and a concert with Bruce Dickey (and Joanna Blendulf).

Later in June I taught for the first time at the Mountain Collegium workshop in North Carolina, where I fell in love with that early music community. Recorder, viol, sackbut, cornetto, and harp players spent a week joyously playing and learning. The faculty (including Gail Schroeder, who will be rejoining us this season) were exceptional and all pitched in for a wonderful atmosphere! I was thrilled that my student Catacoustic Young Artist Wei-Shuan Yu joined me at the workshop.

July took me to the national conclave of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, and it was wonderful to see former Catacoustic scholarship winner Cole Guillien there (still playing beautifully), as well as, again, Wei-Shuan Yu. Wei-Shuan received a scholarship from Bourbon Baroque’s Nico Fortin Memorial fund to attend, and she made quite a splash with her elegant musicianship. I was very proud! Catacoustic was a featured ensemble in the concert that week, and our program was received extremely well!

Finally, a little vacation time! I went to Germany for several week in August to be with my husband’s family. We saw three operas while we were there: the first was at the Innsbruck Early Music Festival. We saw Monteverdi’s Ulisse, and I was pleased to reconnect with Alex Opsahl, playing cornetto in that production. You may remember her from the Catacoustic and Cincinnati Opera Calisto several years ago. The musical direction and the orchestra were fabulous! Then, I saw Il Trovatore outdoors in Erfurt. Finally, in the musical experience of a lifetime, my husband and I were able to experience Tristan at Bayreuth. I am still dreaming of that evening.

On my last day in Germany, I met with luthier Klaus Jacobson. He has been crafting Catacoustic’s new theorbo, for which we have been waiting three years, and I was able to take delivery of it at last. It is now in my music room, aka Catacoustic Headquarters, waiting for its inaugural performance February 10. (Check out our upcoming season here!)

It has been quite a summer. I feel grateful to be a musician and to be able to have a group like Catacoustic with an audience such as you. It has been bracing to travel around the country encountering Catacoustic’s musical DNA in so many places. I have ben reminded that our connection to the larger community goes both ways, to the benefit of us here at home, as well as those far away we may never know about. I am renewed and ready for our first concert of the season September 22!



Monday, July 31, 2017

Interview with Catacoustic Consort Soprano, Melissa Harvey

Melissa Harvey has performed with the Catacoustic Consort for the past eight years and has become a regular feature in our concerts. We are pleased to feature her beautiful voice in our upcoming CD project, as well as many of our concerts this season. More information about Melissa can be found at her website at There is still time to support Catacoustic's CD fundraiser project (with Melissa singing!) at

How old were you when you knew that you would sing music as a career? What does a typical musical week look like in your life? What types of concerts and different styles of music do you perform?

Growing up, I performed for all different kinds of events: Talent shows, pageants, concerts, recitals, weddings, funerals, nursing homes, a shooting range opening, a pre-school opening, a Buffalo Bills game, and county and state fares. I was also in choir, band, musicals at school, and participated in the New York Summer School of the Arts choral program at SUNY Fredonia for three summers. Singing and performing was what I knew from an early age, and I didn’t think about doing anything else until I was in 10th grade. I became very interested in astronomy and thought I may enjoy studying it in college. I eventually decided I was too terrible at math and that I would be more successful at singing! I met Karen Lykes (professor of voice at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music - CCM) in the summer of 2001 at NYSSSA, when I was just about to enter 9th grade. She mentioned to my sister and me that she would be joining the voice faculty of CCM, and we should consider that school for our studies. Karen gave me confidence in my singing and allowed me to seriously consider studying it in college. Once I was at CCM, I didn’t consider the possibility of being unsuccessful in a singing career. My confidence and naivety allowed me to persevere throughout my undergrad. When I began my Masters degree, I began to realize more of the intricacies of the opera world and challenges of having a successful career. I had my gaze set on a purely operatic career, but I realized there were many other options to consider.

A typical music week with Catacoustic is rehearsing from 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday with breaks for lunch. This is very similar to Cincinnati Opera, with rehearsals from 10am-1pm and 2-5pm. I typically have rehearsals for other small gigs and sometimes even performances during the weeks of these rehearsals. I do most of my singing in Cincinnati, which allows me to do my weekly gigs and pick up a few extra things along the way. Currently, I work a day job as the assistant to the director at the Contemporary Arts Center here in Cincinnati. It is challenging at times to juggle all of my commitments, but it has worked out so far! For me, it is very important to get enough rest and to take care of my voice and body, especially on days when I’m working from 9am-10pm.  
What was your big influencer in music? How did you become interested in singing Baroque music?
In my childhood, my sister, a fabulous and successful soprano, was my biggest musical influence. My parents had begun taking her to voice lessons at the recommendation of her music teacher at school. It was one hour round trip, plus an hour long voice lesson that I tagged along for, and I eventually decided that if I had to go anyway, I wanted voice lessons, too. It’s hard to imagine how else I would have found my path in music had it not been for those lessons.

Throughout school, I had many wonderful music teachers: Mrs. Bartlett, Mrs. Graffius, Ms. Knataitis, and Mrs. Ferris. They all gave me encouragement and opportunities in different ways, and they all meant so much to me. Every single one of these teachers helped nurture music in me and allowed me to share and express my passion with others.  

During a production of Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Trancredi e Clorinda, I met you- Annalisa Pappano!  I was recommended to you by Robin Guarino, head of the CCM opera program, for one of your upcoming concerts.  After I agreed to do the concert, I took a look at the music- 17th Century Italian nun music. As I had sung Palestrina, Gabriellei, Allegri, and many others in church choir, I wasn’t expecting the music to be too much of a challenge. There was my naivety again! After looking at the first song, I realized I was in over my head. I remember the feeling of pure joy when I first heard the theorbo, baroque harp, and viol all playing together. Not only did I get to hear and see them up close and personal: I got to sing with them, too. The style felt very natural to me, and I fell in love with the music.

How did you learn to sing this music? What do you like about early music?

Though my voice felt very natural in the Baroque style and I had heard recordings of some pieces from the 17th century, like Carissimi Jephte, Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, and Peri’s Euridice, I did not know any of the rules of the style. I read several articles about 17th century vocal ornaments and asked a lot of questions! My voice teacher at CCM, Mary Stucky, is an avid performer of baroque music. She was a huge help to me when I was learning the music for my first Catacoustic Consort concert.  

A huge component of this music is text painting.  While this is also the case in some more modern music, you are expected to sing what is on the page.  In Baroque music, there is more of an opportunity to become an artist yourself; a composer of the music.  I love being a part of a piece in this way.  No performance is ever the same as one you’ve done before or the performances that will come, no matter the style.  What I like about Baroque music is that the performances are even more different.  I love the experimental flexibility with the ornaments.  I love exploring different ways to convey pain, joy, sadness, anxiousness, and love.  I love the interplay between singer and instrumentalist.   Again, there are certain rules one should follow within the style, but I have been intrigued by the conversations around chords amongst instrumentalists.  The chordal qualities make a huge difference in a piece.  These creative aspects of Baroque are what draw me in the most.  

Tell us the difference between singing Baroque music (performance practice) versus the classical music that you studied in music school and sing for everyday work.

The basic technique is the same for all types of classical music- Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th, and 21st Century. Most importantly, you need to stay connected to your breath. This was a challenge for me when I first approached the Baroque style. The Classical and Romantic styles call for a smooth, clear vocal line with a consistent vibrato. The Baroque style requires you to use your voice differently. Vibrato should not be prominent  throughout. Vibrato is an ornament, just like straight tone, trillos, and gruppos. I found this to be quite difficult. Executing all of these ornaments and switching between a straighter tone and singing with consistent vibrato was confusing to my body. The more I sang in the style, the more natural theses changes became.    

Tell us about the music on this Italian recording you will make with Catacoustic. How does it make you feel, how is it to listen to?

I am very excited about the Italian music we will be recording in the fall. I have performed several of the pieces before, which I find helpful. It gives your body and mind a sense of confidence and is nice to have that familiarity for your mind and your muscles. Several of the solos I will be recording deal with- you guessed it- love lost!  

"Hope," Love said to me,
But how can I hope?
For in the midst of suffering,
Hope to an unhappy one is torment.
If, in the midst of my pains,
My joy, my love, enies sweet succor to my martyrdom,
I will hope, oh yes, but to die.

Hope, hope, my heart,
Fate will kill you.
O false desire!
In vain does one who lacks fortune hope to die.
My idol, my life, wants me, deprived of all aid,
To live in hope; I am content,
And I will hope, oh yes, but for my torment.

This is a beautifully heartbreaking song by the Italian composer Orazio Michi "dell'Arpa"- his nickname (the harpist).  The piece is introduced with a deep arpeggiated minor chord played by the harp, followed by the first vocal statement. Spera is my favorite solo for the recording. The music is extremely evocative of the text, utilizing large leaps, changes back and forth between major and minor, and has the opportunity for several dramatic ornaments. These 17th century Italian laments speak to my soul and feel like a new experience each time I sing them. With songs like these, the baroque harp, and the lirone, you can’t go wrong!

What do you think about the performing world of early music versus the opera community? How are they different or similar?

I find myself more at ease in the world of early music than in the opera community. To me, it doesn’t feel like I have anyone to impress. I feel that I can be myself and show my artistry, and that is enough. This might come from something I mentioned earlier. I think the freedom within music of the baroque as an artist puts me at ease within the style, and affects the social aspect for me. People within the early music world are truly passionate about this music, and I find it very inspiring.    
How would you like to see your career go with early music? What would you say a singer should do if they want to sing Baroque music?

I would like to perform more early music concerts and perform more baroque opera.  In general, I would like to be able to make my living from performing. I find performing so fulfilling, and I love the process just as much as I love the performances. I want to be the soprano everyone is asking for. I want to be the best at what I do.  

If a singer is interested in singing Baroque music, they should first be familiar with the style- listen to recordings of Baroque songs and arias performed by true Baroque singers. Not every voice is meant for Baroque music, just as not everyone has a Puccini or Verdi voice, or a voice for popular music. It is best to sing this music initially with your natural voice and then experiment with ornaments and bringing out that Baroque quality in your voice. It has become more accepted to have singers who are not well-versed in or appropriate for the Baroque style to be singing this genre. I find it exciting when I hear singers who really understand the style and use all of their knowledge to create something really spectacular. I hope to be one of those artists.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cincinnati Early Music Festival 2017 Wrap-up

A few thoughts at the close of Cincinnati Early Music Festival 2017.

The numbers: 24 different groups, made up of 368 musicians, entertained audiences totaling 1690 people, at 11 venues, in 8 neighborhoods around the city and northern Kentucky.

Range of music played: The oldest piece was performed by Harpers Robin, a Viking-derived Nobilis
Break it down, boys

Humilis from the 1100s (at least). The newest was some music snuck in by
Fleurs de Lys composed  in 1924. Unless you count a couple of outbursts of improvisation, which happened at Harpers Robin and again at Classical Revolution (Chris Wilke and Bill Willets). Then you get a true millennium of music, a full 1000 years.

Collegium Vocale
Most featured composer: This would have to be Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672). This greatest of the pre-Bach Germans was given an airing by the Cathedral Choir during Christ Church Evensong, by the Knox Choir, and by Collegium Vocale. The music was beautiful, a Renaissance-Baroque hybrid that conveyed both the lyrics and the emotions equally well. A favorite moment came at the Evensong when the line “He has scattered the proud” focused on the word “zerstreuet” (scattered). Thrown out asynchronously by the various voices, all those sibilances ricocheted off each other and painted a perfect sound picture of catastrophic scattering.

Jaap ter Linden
Most unexpected appearances by an instrument: This would be the cellos. They were everywhere! Colin Lambert with the Caladrian Ensemble, Jennifer Jill Araya with Fleurs de Lys, Christina Coletta with the Knox Choir, Erik Anderson with the Bach Ensemble, David Myers with Collegium Vocale, and Tom Guth with Collegium Cincinnati, who tackled Bach like a boss. Although unplanned, the cello cohort fit in well with this year’s superstar guest, the magnificent Jaap ter Linden. Along with Catacoustic Consort, he brought the house down with his effortless command of all the tricks up the cello’s sleeve, his entire Bach suite played from memory, his evident delight in playing duets with Annalisa Pappano on viola da gamba, a combo that doesn’t happen every day. Or, in the case of Cincinnati, ever. Cellos rule!

Chris Wilke & Rod Stucky

Performer with the fullest dance card: Chris Wilke, no contest. Over the course of the month, Chris partnered with violinist Jennifer Roig-Francoli, soprano Fotina Naumenko, lutenist Bill Willits, and guitarist Rod Stucky. We are glad to have him in town.

Some favorite moments:

                --The audience hanging over the balcony railings at the Cincinnati Art Museum when Schola Cincinnati wafted into that Renaissance music that the echoey Great Hall loves. Come for the art, stay for the music!

                --The energetic treatment of Passacaglia della Vita by Jackie Stevens and the Shakespeare Band, as she gaily reminded us of our approaching ends:  Bisogna morire!

                --The charming selection Mein Gläubiges Herze from Bach’s Cantata 68. It was lovely, and can I just say how good the Bach Ensemble of St. Thomas sounded this year?

                --The final piece of the final event was the eternally spectacular Pianto della Madonna by Sances, sung by Danielle Adams with Elizabeth Motter, WeiShuan Yu, and Annalisa Pappano. This is exactly the kind of music that early music lovers wish the rest of the world knew about.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Early Music Festival Week 4

The final week of the Cincinnati Early Music Festival is already upon us – February always flies by, doesn’t it? We have three events remaining, and they make for an exciting finale.

Sunday, Feb 26, 11am. Once again the Knox Choir at Knox Presbyterian in Hyde Park dips into the infinite works of Heinrich Schütz. Along with full instrumental ensemble, they will perform some of his Concertato Motets from 1648 and 1650. This performance is part of a Presbyterian church service, to which all are welcome.

Sunday, Feb 26, 7:30. Tonight is the exciting return of Vicars Choral, a vocal ensemble that has delighted audiences for the last two years with music of the Renaissance. This year represents a departure for them, in two ways. First, they are moving into the Baroque, with a concert of music by Heinrich Schütz, the great master of German music before JS Bach, music from his Musikalische Exequien from 1636. Second, the Vicars will be joining forces with Collegium Vocale. This is a new ensemble born of the CCM Early Music Lab. Students from undergraduate through the uppermost degrees are exploring the treasures of early vocal music. The combined groups should be worthy of their subject. This concert is free and in Hyde Park – don’t miss it.

Tuesday, Feb 28, 12noon. This final concert of the Festival is particularly exciting because it is, in some ways, another debut! Elizabeth Motter, well-known concert harpist, decided a few years ago to add Early Music to her skill set. She was the first ever recipient of the Catacoustic Early Music Development Grant, which kick-started her training in Baroque triple harp (which is remarkably different from the modern harp.) Since then she has performed numerous times with Catacoustic and other ensembles both in the US and abroad. She has become an invaluable addition to the local early music scene. And today is the first time she has presented her own recital. Join us at one last Music Live at Lunch at Christ Church downtown for 17th century Italian music, including soprano Danielle Adams and gambist WeiShuan Yu, and, of course, one of the only Baroque triple harp specialists in the US today, our own Elizabeth Motter.