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.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Early Music Festival Week 3

We have five events this week, and it’s an interesting line-up

Friday Feb 17, 8:00, at St John United Church of Christ in Bellevue, KY, as part of their February music series “Music on the Avenue,” a duo of Baroque guitars. Rod Stucky, professor of guitar and lute at UC-CCM, and lutenist/guitarist/recording artist Chris Wilke will explore the music of this sometimes-overlooked instrument. Until the 18th century, the lute was considered the king of instruments, but during the final century of the Baroque era the guitar started making inroads in popularity among both performers and composers. Rod and Chris will take us on a tour of this crucial century for the guitar.  Free.

Saturday Feb 18, 10am. This morning is your chance to participate in the most elemental music of all. Come and Sing! means everyone, regardless of experience, is welcome to give early music a try. Cambridge-trained choral conductor Matthew Swanson will be ringmaster as we raise our voices in madrigals, motets, rounds, chants, and other music that our ancestors knew and loved. The atmosphere is warm and supportive, and last year’s group had a terrific time, as I can personally testify. Don’t be shy – come and have fun on a Saturday morning!  Free, of course, and in the sun-drenched chapel at Church of the Redeemer in Hyde Park.

Saturday, Feb 18, 4:00. Returning from last year, when it played to a packed house at Christ Church Cathedral downtown, Bach CantataFest is exactly what the name suggests. Five cantatas by Bach, (numbers 86, 95, 106, 131, 196, for those of you keeping score) sung by five choirs from around the city, including the Cincinnati Boychoir, the Walnut Hills High School Chamber Choir, the Edgecliff Vocal Ensemble from Xavier U, the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, and the hosting ensemble Collegium Cincinnati. If you love Bach, or if you love the high Baroque, or if you just love choral singing, you won’t want to miss this. Tickets $10.

Sunday Feb 19, 3:00. Catacoustic Consort is the Early Music Festival’s
hosting organization. Their annual concert is always a highlight of the Festival, but never more than this year. To our delight, we will be presenting the most renowned Baroque cellist in the world, Jaap ter Linden. He will perform music of Telemann, Bach, Geminiani, and others. Cancel your other plans – you may never again get a chance to hear this music played at this level. Tickets $25, $10 student.

Tuesday Feb 21, 12noon. Today’s lunchtime concert at Christ Church Cathedral downtown will feature the Cincinnati Recorder Consort. Eight musicians, most professional or semi-professional, offer up the entire recorder family, including giant bass instruments that stand on the floor and tiny sopraninos unplayable by all but the slimmest fingers. They’ll be playing music from the Renaissance (the divine William Byrd!) and the Baroque (the awesome Orlando Gibbons!).  Free.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Early Music Festival 2017 Week 2

Week 2 of the Festival is typically busy, and this year is no exception, with SIX events. Three of these are debut performances of new ensembles.

Friday, Feb 10, at 7:30 is the inaugural performance of Schola Cincinnati, a new professional vocal ensemble dedicated to music of the Renaissance. Founder Jason Harris, a Grammy winner formerly of Oberlin, is a man with a mission: to give the city an ensemble that ranks with the best-known groups in the US. His hand-picked singers will debut with music composed around the poetry of the Song of Solomon. Lassus, Palestrina, Victoria, and others all mined this most secular book of the Bible for lyrics literal and allegorical, romantic and sacred. The beautiful acoustics of St Peter in Chains downtown will add to the experience. Come help break a champagne bottle across the bow of this ambitious project. Tickets $15, $5 students.

Saturday, Feb 11, at 3:00 will see another new group to the Festival. The Caladrian Ensemble, newly formed this year, features instrumental chamber music from the late Baroque era. This concert will present Jennifer Roig-Francoli on Baroque violin, with music by Bach, Haydn, Rust, and others, at Old St. Mary’s in Over-the-Rhine. Tickets $10, $7 seniors.

Sunday, Feb 12, 2:00. The Cincinnati Art Museum in Eden Park presents an occasional concert series called MUSE in its Great Hall. Today will feature Schola Cincinnati, in an abbreviated repeat performance of their debut on Fri Feb 10.

Sunday, Feb 12, 5:00. Every month the Cincinnati Bach Ensemble prepares entire cantatas and other works by Bach, his contemporaries, and his predecessors, to be sung during Evensong. Every month! This month it’s music by Bach and Handel, and includes as soloist CSO flautist Randy Bowman. Part of an Episcopal evensong service, to which all are welcome. In Terrace Park.

Sunday, Feb 12, 8:00. It’s that time of year:  Classical Revolution!  The second Sunday of every month classical music comes where people live, at the Northside Tavern in Northside. And every February the music gets old – really old. A potpourri of ensembles and musical eras will grace the backroom stage. Past years have included hurdy-gurdy and Viking songs, Elizabethan tavern songs, lutes, flutes, and surprises galore. Come and have an ale of a good time.

Tuesday, Feb 14, 12:10. One more brand new group will debut this action-packed week. Fleurs de Lys focuses on French music as performed by strings, winds, and voice. Today’s concert will include music of Couperin, Moulinié, and others. As usual, bring your lunch or purchase one at Christ Church downtown for $5.