From Whence We Came - Ensemble Galilei

From Whence We Came

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Crazy instruments. Diverse backgrounds. Musicians born in four different decades, who live in six different states. As my brother, the publicist said, “But what’s the connective tissue?”

Here’s the thing—the connective tissue is us. It is our sensibility. Our musical curiosity. Our commitment to each other’s passion. And we aren’t the same. We aren’t even from the same generation.

Ensemble Galilei by Burgess Blevins

Isaac Alderson, the youngest of us, was the first person to win the All Ireland Competition in three divisions, in one year. Yep, he kills. Uilleann pipes, whistles and flutes.

Kathryn Montoya is a much sought-after early music performer for both studio work and on stage. With wicked chops on baroque oboe and recorder (and now penny-whistle) she can read music like the wind, is insanely brilliant, speaks two languages, and is very intense.

Ryan McKasson plays Scottish fiddle but he’s more than that. And as anyone who has worked with him will tell you, he has a prodigious mind and is constantly listening for the most compelling harmony line, the most beautiful melody, the most interesting orchestration. He is focused like a laser beam on the music in the room.

Jackie Moran has been a member of some of the great traditional Irish bands in America. He has played with everyone, knows thousands of tunes, loves the most hated instruments in Irish music (bodhran and banjo), can install light fixtures and drive all night in a snowstorm, and is steady like a rock.

Those are the people in their thirties and forties.

Then you have Sue and me. The people in our fifties and seventies. The Celtic harp and the viola da gamba people.

For a long time I have referred to Sue as the four-time U.S. National Scottish Harp Champion, but that was twenty years ago. We are older now. We have not only been through touring, and raising families and recording CDs and creating special projects and playing with some of the finest Irish and Scottish musicians in the world. We have found our voices. And our voices are our instruments.

She teaches. She adjudicates Scottish harp competitions. She tours with Ensemble Galilei. She writes tunes. She will not stop thinking until she has found the most perfect chord progression. She brings beauty to every recording. We each bring something. She brings beauty. I am the ground upon which we walk. She is the air, the wind, the sun.

So we sit down, everyone brings the tune that they love the most that day, and we work. We play, we arrange, we obsess, we give in, we give up, we start again. This is not a recording of Celtic music. It is not a recording of early music. It is an Ensemble Galilei recording. It is the best of us. Our best tunes, our best performances, our best arrangements. Each track on this recording tells a story that one of us wants to tell, needs to tell.

And yes, the instrumentation is unlike any other. And the repertoire is all over the place. And we are an unlikely group of people assembled in a studio. But in this year, with this recording, we brought our true selves, bright and shining, battered and lost, and we celebrate From Whence We Came.

-Carolyn Anderson Surrick
Ensemble Galilei

Sue Richards, Jackie Moran, Ryan McKasson, Isaac Alderson, Kathryn Montoya, and Carolyn Surrick
Sue Richards, Jackie Moran, Ryan McKasson, Isaac Alderson, Kathryn Montoya, and Carolyn Surrick

From Norway and Ireland
Peru and Germany
England, Scotland
and Sweden

our ancestors
carried in their satchels
a few possessions,
hope and tragedy
in their hearts.

the mirror reflects
her eyes
his jaw
their cheekbones

the music we make
is ours
but also theirs

holding us close
harmonies drawn
from a past
we do not remember

we play on
and are left
to wonder
and celebrate
from whence we came.