Archive for the Concerts Category

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:

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!


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.”

*Blush* 😀

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)

“Altered consciousness” by Jill Kennedy

Posted in Concerts, Ireland on September 7, 2010 by Tracia

Driving along between dense green hedgerows, VAE began to practice “Irish Blessing”. What a _moment_. Boundaries between singers, listeners and country side merged.

More of the same that evening, as the group sang their first chords, the quiet intensity of their voices riveted the audience. Heads snapped to attention — absolute silence — little old ladies widened their eyes at each other. Again, the sense of loss self in some etheric place. Singers, locals, tourists held in exquisite sound.

– Jill Kennedy (camp follower)

“Concert in Killarney” by Jeanine McElwain

Posted in Concerts, Ireland on September 6, 2010 by Tracia

Dressed in our black concert attire, the women gather by the door of St. Mary’s Church as Irish squeezebox music streams out of the pub across the street. Below on the sidewalk, tour director Dani chats up passers-by, hands out flyers, and steers people through the front gate, promising them an unforgettable musical experience.

Later, as we assemble near the altar, I marvel at the number and variety of people, locals and world travelers alike, who have come to hear us sing. They have no idea who we are, or even, in some cases, where Davis is. But they continue to arrive after each song, and the applause grows in enthusiasm throughout the evening.

Tracia’s eyes sparkle as she holds a crescendo-ing chord till it rings from the vaulted ceiling and the ancient stone walls. After final bows, we are showered with praise from enraptured audience members from all corners of the globe.

– Jeanine McElwain (alto)


Posted in Concerts, Ireland on September 5, 2010 by Tracia

We began Sunday morning with a bus load of luggage and formally dressed VAE members on the way to noon mass in Charlesville. We arrived early enough that I had a chance to speak with the priest, an adorable white-haired man with a rather thick Irish accent.
He had requested we sing in three parts of the service, after which he would invite the congregation to stay for our 15 minute mini concert. He had already checked out our website and said we “sang music quite different than what they are used to…Gregorian chant and such..”


He then almost apologetically invited me to check out the church, qualifying its “small” size by explaining that Charlesville was a small town. “So is Davis!” I answered, but then he informed me that Charlesville didn’t have 60,000 people….but just 4000!!


Then as I walked into the church, I was awestruck by its beauty and spinning, enveloping acoustics. I was so excited about us singing in that space that my hands were literally shaking!

The entire Catholic service was a cultural experience unto itself. The church had several hundred worshippers (and this was but one of *three* services that day) and a congregation of all ages (including many children, some running around unattended). The congregational responses were individual and chaotic and not the typical unison speak I’m used to. In other words, what I expected of a Irish Catholic service was far less…distraction.

At least, until we sang.

Beforehand, the priest (whom was reportedly a real stickler for time) had asked me to time our pieces with the parts of the service that needed transitions, hoping we would not go too long after they completed the movements. So when we got to the communion and performed the Missa Brevis, I was mentally prepared to stop before the last movement if needed.

As we started the piece there was a lot of activity and noise directly in front of the chorus as the congregation came up for communion, so as we were in the third movement I became aware that things were quieting down, and knew they were finishing up. But then I realized… Wait a minute…things were really quieting down!! By the time we finished the big push on the word “highest” and savored the lingering resonance, I became aware that the service had transformed from a rote ritual into a moment of pure presence.

So I decided to continue on with the final movement anyway (“O Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world”), which happened to be the same text as one of their earlier readings. The emotion of it touched many in the chorus, and I noticed it had welled up enough in some that they weren’t even able to sing in spots. Even better for me was that the space had become so reverently quiet that I felt I owed it to them to perform music to immerse themselves in that moment.


For our 15 minute mini concert we had a chance to relish the acoustics more deeply. The shimmering treble of pieces like “Lux Aurumque” felt like layers of overtones were emerging from the rafters to envelop us, and the powerful echo in “Selah” was like multiple choirs mirroring our chords and energy. There were even a few moments when a piece of brass or something high in the ceiling would cause a a sympathetic vibration for the sopranos high Ab. I get chills thinking about it!

Though I suspected we had put more preparation into our performances than I think is more typical of touring choirs, it was still thrilling to see the people react in such awe and warm appreciation. After the service the father presented us with a thoughtful framed certificate of their thanks, and told us they have choirs travel and perform several times a year but we were the best they have ever heard (*blush*)! And another man rushed with a recorder to interview me for his Catholic radio program apparently to air in Ireland the weekend we leave (hope he will contact me!) but more than anything, I would like to stay in that moment of what it was like to create music in that space with the group that means so much to me.


– Tracia Barbieri (director)

Walls come a tumblin’ down

Posted in Concerts, Ireland on September 4, 2010 by Tracia

After a full day of airline travel and a full day of sightseeing, it was almost easy to forget that we came to Ireland to sing. And at this point there seemed a palatable amount of trepidation about how well we still remembered our music, formations, Gaelic, choreography, etc. So I was going into our first performance (the chapel at Kylemore abbey) with the mindset that this was a dress rehearsal…just in an incredibly awesome space.

The beauty of the architecture inside the chapel was equally matched by the outside, with its intricate carvings and glass windows….and made our anticipation of the chance to sing in this space almost as exciting as the actual realization of it.

For me, the energy and focus of our first “Ho” in “Hosanna” was like loosing an arrow from a tensed bowstring shot, embodying the months and months (years, really) of practice and preparation everyone invested to bring us to this point and propelling straight into the target!!

My highlight was that this analogy was literally made manifest. According to some of our listeners, when we sang the fortissimo final phrase of “The Battle of Jericho” some small pieces of plaster really were shaking loose and falling from the walls and ceiling.

Here’s a close up of the right most part of the photo:

Granted, sure, this was happening throughout our performance, but its far far cooler to think of it as that the walls really came a tumbling down….!!! 😉

I was also so relieved to see that our efforts were as well received as I hoped they would be. Our audience of happenstance tourists visiting the abbey seemed to really enjoy not only the repertoire, but especially the execution. One English man lamented catching only our last two pieces and hoped we would be touring England soon (hrm…..)

– Tracia Barbieri (director)

Breaking ground

Posted in Concerts, Ireland, News on August 27, 2010 by Tracia

This season for VAE has been a series of unique experiments in pursuit of our goal of sharing exquisite music through artful musicianship.

The whole fact that we even had a summer season to begin with was already unique, as most choruses (VAE included) often take the summer months off to regroup, relax, vacation, and maybe even build up a little choral withdrawal…

But considering we had our performance tour of Ireland planned for September, our summer has instead been packed with rehearsals, home practice, logistics training, memorization clinics, optional sings, quartet practice, gigs….all while trying to skate around the fact that 20-25% of the chorus was usually absent at any given rehearsal due to vacations, family weddings, summer work schedules, and what not.

In fact, it was not until our ‘Bon Voyage’ concert in Davis on August 22 that the entire chorus was actually all together for the first time!! It is no mean feat to try and develop a polished and blended choral sound when it was constantly changing and we weren’t even sure what it was until we did it for an audience! (and I do mean the actual performance…not even the dress rehearsal had everyone present)!

It’s enough to make you crazy! 🙂

The tour was also the excuse to set our sights a bit higher towards a more professional image and execution, experimenting with ideas of a unified concert attire that can coordinate with our concert repertoire — Renaissance motets, modern choral masterpieces, and ethnic choral music. It was only through persistence and a rather lengthy process of collaborative communication (not to mention a great deal of late night sewing by Jeannie Nishikawa and Jeri Ohmart), that we managed a travel-able look that is both modern and timeless, coordinated and individual, not exclusively American but not exclusive to a particular culture….and more than anything formal yet comfortable enough to sing in. The most amazing part is we even got it in time for our August 22 performance for our family, friends, and loyal supporters before our tour! Many thanks everyone!

But alas spiffy performance attire is rightfully only icing on the cake, and it has been the dedication to blend, balance, finesse, and detailed musical execution that has broken the most ground this summer. I’m very proud of our performance last weekend, and can’t wait to take it abroad in the churches and cathedrals of Ireland!

So please stay tuned for details about our adventures….this blog was created by request from some of our audience members, and is another experiment in sharing our musical experiences with our community. Please check back and feel free to post your comments, ideas, suggestions, and feedback!

– Tracia Barbieri (director)