Vocal Art Ensemble featured on iSeeDavis.com!

Posted in Ireland on November 19, 2010 by Tracia


iSeeaSpecial from Cheri Benson on Vimeo.

VAE videos on YouTube–Plus contest!!

Posted in Concerts, Ireland, News on October 7, 2010 by Tracia

The Vocal Art Ensemble is proud to announce that several videos of our performances in Ireland are now up on YouTube. There is one video for each of the venues we sang in, so you can see some of the incredible sights we were honored to see. They can be located by user Truglyn here: http://www.youtube.com/user/Truglyn?feature=mhum

IN PARTICULAR: our video of Betelehemu is now entered in a CONTEST supported by local music store Watermelon Music, since it features the darbuka drum we purchased at their store specifically for our tour. If this video gets more views than the other October entrants, VAE can win a $100 gift certificate for Watermelon to help pay for music or musical instruments (specifically we need finger cymbals to be used for our December 10-12th concerts!).


Please help VAE win the contest by clicking the above link to enjoy the video to ‘cast a vote’ for VAE!! (feel free to forward it to your friends, coworkers, and families, too ;)).

This video is also rather special because it shows all the different venues we performed this piece in in just one video! It also helps local business Watermelon music, which recently opened a second location in Woodland in addition to its popular Davis location. The store has been very kind to VAE by posting posters, offering discounts, and even selling our CDs in their store. And of course since we are very supportive of encouraging local music in the community, we’re happy to be spreading the word about them, too!🙂

Thank you so much for your continued support of VAE!

“VAE Ireland Tour Highlights” by Jeanine McElwain (alto)

Posted in Ireland on October 7, 2010 by Tracia

Every day of this tour held several peak moments for me.  Some of the most memorable were:

  • From the bus windows, marveling at the impossibly narrow road with no shoulder, flanked by tall bushes up to the very edge.  Each lane of traffic looked like a bike path, and yet we would squeak by large vehicles passing in the opposite direction just inches from our windows.
  • On the grounds of Ashford Castle, gasping in awe as two trained hawks with bells on their legs swooped down from the trees on either side of me, and turning quickly to see Kay duck as their wingtips nearly brushed her, on their way back to the falconry master’s glove.
  • Waiting in LONG lines at a concert venue for a tiny water closet that served the entire cathedral.
  • In St. Peter’s Church in Bandon:  enjoying the Irish Garda (police force) men’s choir performing Anuna’s arrangement of “Dulaman” with the great tenor solo; singing our David Mooney version of “Dulaman” with a local mixed chorus and then joining them on “Irish Blessing” as we all processed to the back of the church; and afterward, meeting Ann, the Irish concert coordinator, and her husband Adrian, who expressed his gratitude for the Irish-Americans who had helped preserve Celtic music during the mass emigration years and eventually returned it to the homeland.
  • At a scenic overlook on the Ring of Kerry drive, running into a German couple who were still raving about our informal noon concert at Kylemore Abbey two days earlier.
  • Seeing the entire city of Kilkenny festooned with yellow-and-black banners in honor of their heroic hurling team, which had just narrowly lost to Galway in a national tournament.
  • Singing in a tiny, 6th century stone church where we presented Tracia with a pendant gift, and being deeply touched by her husband Doug’s emotional breakdown – a  weepy moment for many of us.
  • Hiking alongside the lakes and up the steep paths of Glendalough with botanist Dave as he examined arboreal features and pointed out colorful mushrooms I surely would have missed.
  • Returning to our Dublin hotel from an excellent Indian restaurant, along insanely busy streets in the pouring rain, and marveling at the fearless cycling commuters whizzing around corners in EXTREMELY narrow bike lanes as double-decker buses flanked their right shoulders.
  • Meeting Dr. David Mooney, Dublin music professor and arranger of our “Dulaman” piece, at our noon concert in St. Patrick’s cathedral, who sought us out from an announcement in the local paper and gave us the highest possible praise by saying he had heard few American choirs as accomplished as ours !  (He even complimented us on our Gaelic !!)
  • After our final dinner in Dublin, roasting Tracia and our phenomenal bus driver Denis with hilarious sendups of our songs, thanks to the clever lyrics of Laura, Katie & Liese.
  • And lastly, visiting a “Goilin” — a kind of folklore preservation club that meets weekly to keep traditional Irish ballads alive. Our small Davis group sat mesmerized in the crowded meeting room as club members took turns singing haunting, tragic or humorous tunes, in either English or Gaelic.  Each soloist plaintively poured out numerous verses while the others joined in on the refrain, which we managed to pick up after a few repetitions.  Soon Ray and Doug offered songs of their own, and then the club asked for one or two of our performance pieces.  Since we had sufficient voice parts, Tracia was only too happy to oblige with “Jericho” and “Dulaman” — and the cheers were deafening!  One member later told me the local singers were in fine form – he could tell they had “turned it up a notch” just because of our presence!

Well, if meeting Dr. Mooney was the “icing on the cake” of our grand tour, the Goilin club was the “cherry on top” !

Surrendering control…to the Sun and the Moon(ey)

Posted in Concerts, Ireland on September 13, 2010 by Tracia

So now my eighteen some months of planning, scheming, visualizing, imagining, strategizing, and dreaming are over. Our ten short days have now transformed from the anticipated to the realized, tangible only in the memories of each of the travelers.

Well, that and on the hard drives, SD cards, and websites housing the many photos and video clips taken over the course of the trip.

I feel compelled to try and capture as many of the emotions as I can (while they are still fresh), writing this blog entry, editing video, making photo slideshows, etc. Those ten days felt but like ten hours to me, and they are all too quickly slipping from unreal to surreal.

I also have a counter full of souvenirs and trinkets to share or give away, things I can hold or touch that might trigger associative memories about the trip: signed concert programs, newspaper clippings, framed photos, brochures, clothing, jewelry… Having a decent memory I know I will be able to remember a great deal about the trip, but as I really want to keep EVERYTHING, that’s just not enough…

It’s like I’m trying to hold water in my hands and I don’t want to spill a single drop… And yet I’m profusely leaking.

So instead I must comfort myself in the knowledge that the real souvenirs can not be worn or saved or stored on hard drives and photo albums or even in treasured blog entries. The things that will stay with me are the things I learned — about the wonderful people in my beloved group, about our music and its impact on others, about the charm and hardships of the Irish people and culture, about how to adapt and grow while partaking in something as hectic as a concert tour, and more than anything, little discoveries I’ve made about myself and my abilities and challenges as a (somewhat reluctant) leader.

Perhaps one of the biggest one is learning to surrender control. I did my best to plan and anticipate how the trip might go, giving a great deal of thought to pacing and varied interests, hoping to please all the travelers (impossible, I know, but I had to try). And yet I knew going in there would be many things that would be out of my control (such as the weather) which could make or break the enjoyment of even my best laid plans….and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

Frightening shadows, flickering light…

Interestingly enough, I found the weather to be remarkably compliant for us. It seemed that it would be gorgeous on the days it really needed to be (such as our lake cruise!), rainy on the days we could handle it best (such as indoor tours), and strategically off-and-on around the times when we needed it most (the rest of the time). The clouds seemed to hold in their rain whenever we had to walk to a church for one of our performances (or wanted to take a photo in front), but let their droplets go just as we were finishing touring an area (which conveniently sped up the process of loading back onto the bus!).

I can’t explain why we would always get so lucky, but it gives me faith that I could come to rely upon one thing: Things Work Out.

Another example: I originally had some concern that, after what I suspected would be a highlight for many singers of performing with the other Irish choirs in Bandon (and getting to connect with the warm and friendly people), our performances after that would feel anticlimactic. Yes, they were to be in the most awe-inspiring cathedrals (St. Canice of Kilkenny and St. Patrick’s of Dublin), but we knew that the audiences would be sparse and consist more of curious tourists than Irish residents. Combining my suspicion that the singers would not have huge appreciative audiences to draw energy from, and that I suspected fatigue and even illness might be setting in for many by that point, I was a little worried our performances in those two very incredible cathedrals might fall flat….and again there was very little I could do about that.

Clouds of dream give second sight

If I had known how it would turn out, it would have been easier to surrender complete control. The performance in St. Canice was indeed a rather low turnout, and the singers (and their director) were all fatigued and low-energy (especially with two of our number down for that concert). But interestingly enough, I found that just made it easier for us focus on the most subtle of details, the most intimate connection between the voices. Several of our loyal and beloved “roadies” said it was the first time they could really revel in the words and meaning of the texts, hear the interplay and beauty of each voice and still enjoy the blended choral sound, and for many it was thus the best performance of them all.

Go figure.

The performance was more like a serene and contemplative meditation, beautiful and introspective, and echoed afterwards by the other-worldly atmosphere in the church’s graveyard outside. I could not have planned this very drastic departure from the previous night’s energetic and uplifting performance, and that is good because if I had I would not have seen its value…and we would have been robbed of something truly wondrous and thought-provoking.

Then I surrender…

St. Patrick’s in Dublin did not disappoint either, even though it was at huge risk to, being the venue the most highly anticipated by most if not all of the chorus. Though I suspected it might feel a bit disconcerting for the singers to sing for casual passers-by, I actually hoped the audience would not applaud so our music could simply add to the ambiance as the onlookers soaked up the beauty of the impressive cathedral. Indeed they were reverently quiet, and it was an absolute dream for me to taste and savor the several-seconds’ worth of lingering echo at the end of our more energetic and powerful pieces. Amazingly enough, they did spontaneous applaud after our ‘last’ piece, “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da”, and seemed to help the singers get the appreciation they really deserved and craved. Again, this is something I could not have controlled, even though I was silently hoping it would happen!

However, that was not all…right after we finished the encore, the first person to come up and speak with me introduced himself as David Mooney — the arranger of our one Irish piece, “Dulaman”!!! Apparently he had seen some of the announcements of our performances in Ireland in the newspapers, but our performance in Dublin had not been listed, so he tracked down our website and discovered when and where we would be performing in Dublin (big thanks to Melissa’s husband, Bill Kendrick, for setting all that up!!!) Best part is that he was very impressed and complementary about our repertoire and execution!

Suffice it to say we spent a considerable amount of time chatting with him and taking photographs, and engaging in a bit of ‘hero-worship’ which he was understandably all too happy to accept. But seriously, he was very gracious and supportive and I’m so thrilled the entire chorus had a chance to meet him and speak with him. Definitely no risk of being anti-climactic there!

According to one of our number who sat next to him during the performance, he agreed with her statement that we were a special group, adding, “Yes, they are good. They are really, really good!”  He also e-mailed me later that afternoon to say, “It was wonderful to meet you and your wonderful choir today. I really enjoyed the whole performance – an excellently chosen programme and delivered with great musicianship and style. Your group makes a really beautiful sound – congratulations to you all.”


The strangest part is that I had given this some thought well over a year ago, when I was programming our ‘Music of British Isles and Ireland’ concert and planning this trip. When I was researching for the concert program, I had discovered that David Mooney lived and worked in Dublin, and fantasized that it would be very neat if we could meet up with him while we were there…but soon dismissed it as highly unlikely and didn’t work to try and set something up. And yet here it happened anyway, completely unplanned, and because of that we enjoyed a much bigger honor, since he CHOSE to come to hear us, and went to extra trouble to do so.

Now the true test will remain: Will I be able to surrender in the future as well?

What dreams may come both dark and deep, of flying wings and soaring leap…

Well, the best I can do is try to remember: Things Work Out.

-Tracia Barbieri (director)

“Irish Music–a warm blanket in which to snuggle and wrap oneself…” by Doug Barbieri

Posted in Ireland on September 13, 2010 by Tracia

I’m sitting here trying to marshal my thoughts, trying vainly to capture all of the buzz that is alive in my head. I woke up this morning, took a jog in a lovely Northern California dawn, taking in the cool air, the music of Ireland still freshly pulsing through my head. I hear Ray’s voice and his wife Jane’s lovely harmonies as they sung folk song after folk song, all the while tooling around througn the Irish countryside in our tour bus.

I hear the Irish heart in the form of melodies, all stringing together in my head, a malange of tunes and haromnies weaving in and out, mixed together with visions of white bunchning Irish clouds drifting over vivid green plains and mountains, Sheep, cattle, rock fences, a shepherd in complete aural command of his sheep dogs, the sound of the bus in motion, the hypnotic lilt of our driver Denis as he schooled us on the rich Irish history and taught us Irish humor and proper pronunciation of Gaelic, the sound of Euro coins in my satchel, the color of the Euro notes, the taste of Guinness in my mouth as we sat in a room with dozens of Irish who could sing like nobody’s business at the Teacher’s Club in Dubin, the color of the poached eggs we had each morning and the crispness of the rashers (Irish bacon), the potatoes and fried tomatoes, coffee, tea and scones. The deep richness of Irish butter and chocolate. The breathtaking churches and cathedrals with the sun streaming in through the stained glass windows, the echo of our cut-offs in those dramatic spaces, standing and singing in a solo in Yoruba to rapt European audiences, the feeling of tears of joy streaming down my face as I presented a gift of appreciation from the choir in an ancient Celtic church to my wife and director, Tracia, without whom none of this would ever had happened, The awe of standing in places that have history spanning thousands of years and feeling a part of it. The beautiful feeling of being wrapped in a thick warm blanket of love which is the Irish music, the yearning, the pain, the joy, love of life these people have cannot be adequetly transcribed on paper or presented on something as transient as a blog entry.  But I do my best here.

I sat in awed reverence feeling privileged to have been allowed to partake in the Teacher’s Club singing pub session, where the doors are closed to the rest of the pub and the only rules are to be quiet, listen and if you feel the urge to sing, do it in turn. I sang my heart out, pouring the love that I felt in that lush, rich and green land, my travelling companions with me, each of whom I consider family now. This trip has brought us together and when we sang for the Irish in the room, it was from the heart. We gave them a bit of ourselves and they in turn gave us something we will never forget.

We sang this way all over the country, my VAE family and I. As each concert was behind us, we felt more and more connected with the rich Irish fabric of life, and to each other.

Though I have sung in choirs throughout the years, it was in Ireland where I was taught how to really sing.

I am forever changed by my Irish experience  and am incredibly thankful to have had this opportunity. I think about the tune we sang with the joint Irish choir in Bandon, County Cork, filling the old cathedral with song. This sums up, I think, how we all feel:
“May the road rise to greet you, may the wind be always at your back.
“May the sun shine warm, upon your face, the rain fall softly on your flelds.”
“And until we meet again, until we meet again. May God hold you on the palm of his hand.”

It was with bitter sweetness in my heart that we said to Ireland, “Slan go foill!”

– Doug Barbieri (tenor)

“Sensory Overload” by Laura Sandage

Posted in Ireland on September 11, 2010 by Tracia

The VAE tour of Ireland was a ten-day feast for the senses.  Here are a few scraps of the riches I encountered and won’t soon forget:

–The crystalline acoustics of St Canice’s cathedral, which focused my attention and whetted my appetite for choral purity.
–The trilling Rs joyfully rolled out by the Carrigaline Singers during the song “Rrrrhythm of Life.”   I laughed with delight and recorded the ending of the song on my iphone.
–The Irish accents, thick and thin, from our charming driver’s colorful turns of phrases to the rustic farm hands at Muckross, who spoke with very thick accents while looking off in the distance at oblique angles.
–The roar of wind and rain in the trees during a delicious solo walk to the Muckross Abbey.  I liked the sound so much I tucked my rain jacket hood around my ears to let the sound in!
–The roomful of charming voices and warm applause at the Goilin Singers Club on the last night in Dublin.

–The wet, wild blackberries growing all along the paths of Muckross House.  I ate them by the handful!
–The thick, chewy brown soda bread at every meal– the best we had came with our soup at the Blarney Mills lunch stop.
–The not-too-sweet and very creamy butterscotch swirl soft ice cream at Glendalough.  Somehow, the Irish ice cream was good even in cool, wet weather.
–Sampling five varieties of cheap candy bars from the 2 Euro Store.  My teenaged daughter Vita and I both favored the Toffee Crisp.
–The burn of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey.  We tried some straight up, and then quickly added ice, coke, lime, anything to tame it.  Mixing the effects with tour bus motion sickness not recommended.
–The dark, meaty taste of the black and white pudding was something I didn’t expect.  Not knowing it was a kind of sausage, I was imagining something mildly sweet or perhaps eggy like Yorkshire pudding.

–Rainbows on an almost daily basis, and a giant unicorn statue to go with them!
–Woolens of all sorts, celtic jewelry and art– I looked, touched, and admired, but never managed to buy myself anything.
–Soaring ceilings and polished brass eagles contrasted with eroded sandstone tombstones and vine-engulfed ruins.  Time and death, the great equalizers, are never out of sight nor out of mind, in spite of the richness of the country’s premier cathedrals and residences.
–Green, green, green hills, dotted with sheep and more sheep.

–The peat fires burning inside the vintage farmhouses of Muckross, where scones were cooked for us directly on the fire in iron pots.
–The green scent of evergreens and junipers in the rain.
–The musty, moist-stone-and-dust odors of the Blarney dungeons, of the inside of the Glendalough Round Tower, of the mossy chapel at the Rock of Cashel.
–The Easter lilies that trumpeted their perfume straight into the ranks of VAE during our St. Patrick’s concert in Dublin.  I missed several notes at the end of the Folksong trying not to cough with what felt like a particle of pollen lodged in my throat.  Luckily a good cough between songs had me singing again for There Will Be Rest.

–The firm flesh of young piglets patted in the Muckross petting zoo.
–The softness of wool scarves and shawls purchased by Jill, Tracia, and Jane.
–The closeness of fellow singers during cramped impromptu sings, the press of bodies during moments of pub navigation, and the embraces of tour friends upon departure– Denis, Britta, Cyd, and others.
–Ever-increasing attempts to play my African cowbell as quietly as possible in vast, resonant cathedral spaces.
–In a less tactile way, I was “touched” many times during the trip–and moved to tears by a swirling blend of exhaustion, gothic architecture, historic atrocities, warm welcomes, and most often by the beauty of our joined voices.

– Laura Sandage (soprano)

“Sharing” by Bill Andrews

Posted in Ireland on September 10, 2010 by Tracia

It’s been so much fun to connect with fellow VAE singers with their friends and family members. We’ve enjoyed spectacular scenery and amazing historical sites. Everyone seems to relish sharing what things they’ve seen and heard and it’s this personal dialog that I treasure so much.

VAE is an awesome aggregate of intelligent and caring individuals who share a common passion for creating beautiful music. It’s an honor to sing and perform with such talented and committed musicians under the inspired leadership of our beloved director, Tracia.

– Bill Andrews (bass)