by Jolle Greenleaf, Artistic Director of TENET
In advance of TENET’s two Christmas performances at Caramoor on December 16, Artistic Director Jolle Greenleaf talks about ensemble singing.
As we move toward winter and our day’s light is shortened leading up to the solstice, I find myself humming traditional carols for the memories and warmth they bring to my heart and mind. Carol singing is both pleasurable and powerful as a professional musician as we spend much-focused energy performing these tunes during the month of December and we relish the chance to share our vocal skills through the singing of simple, beloved melodies.
I thought it might be nice to share my thoughts on ensemble singing through the years with TENET. Singing in an ensemble is an intimate, carefully constructed experience that is not for the faint of heart. Rehearsing and performing provide very different experiences and each part of the process has its gifts. In rehearsals, singers have great freedom to push and pull, expand ideas, and take vocal risks. Each singer brings their personality to the process, and as a group, we sketch out a plan and fill in some of the program’s many details in preparation for the concert.
Performances are the culmination of those collective ideas. Sometimes ensemble singing can feel physically and emotionally risky — like walking on a high wire — because we are balancing our voices using our refined muscles and quickly reacting minds. In the best live concert moments, an ensemble feels a mutual understanding that results in a magical overall sound. It’s quite an incredible sensation! We add the final touches and joie de vivre when you are present as it is our gift to you — the audience. Our senses become heightened and we focus on minute details in the moment. We also react and read your energy and gauge your emotional feedback. Audiences often forget that they are an integral part of every performance. An engaged and open audience is crucial for creating memorable, emotionally fulfilling musical experiences. How you enter the space and how you react to what you hear can make a huge difference in how you exit after the concert ends.
The lute becomes a timeless instrument as it joins with the voices for new and old carols. The plucked sound contrasts with the smooth vocal lines, offering percussive chords and solo melodies. While the lute you will hear on December 16 is new compared to the original it copies, it dates back to the crusades and was used through the 17th century. If you spend a lot of time in early music circles, you would think that the lute is just as popular today. Being married to lutenist Hank Heijink (who will be performing with us for our Caramoor program), we have several in our home and I often forget that this isn’t everyone’s experience. If you haven’t had the pleasure of being introduced to this instrument yet, you’re in for a real treat! It has a lovely quality when compared to the guitar because of its all-wood body and gut strings. The lack of metal is the key to the soft, sweet quality of sound you’ll hear in this performance.
In creating our Christmas program, I worked to find selections that best feature the singers involved so that we can best feed the soul of the listener. Each of the singers involved — Martha, Kate, Owen, Andrew — bring their own beauty and inner light to this music, and you’ll have a chance to hear us all individually as well as together. I hope that hearing us will draw you in and bring you closer to us. What might you listen for? How do the voices sound on their own or in pairs? How does someone’s personality bring a fresh, new idea to a song you may already know? Do any of the songs sound familiar? If something is familiar, can you place where you last heard it? I hope through hearing our performance that you will have a new, lasting memory of the familiar songs.