Press Release: ENSEMBLE GALILEI LAUNCHES CD AND THEATER PROJECT INSPIRED BY VETERANS
Sue Richards, Ginger Hildebrand, and I spent seven years of Fridays driving into Washington, D.C. to play for wounded warriors and their families. We started at Mologne House at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Peter Anderson, who was in charge, made sure we had a place to park right out front. Every week we walked in, set up our instruments, and started to play.
It seems an unlikely vision, three women sitting in a corner of the lobby, playing Celtic harp, viola da gamba, and fiddle and guitar, but there we were, outside the dining hall, playing. And talking. And listening.
At Mologne House, everyone had the same task – and it was healing. Some of the injuries were gaping wounds, some were missing limbs, some were traumatic brain injuries, and some were invisible. People were there for months. Some were there for years. It takes a while to complete twenty-eight surgeries and procedures. Nothing is easy.
If you haven’t spent a lot of time around Army guys (and most were Army) there are some things you need to know. They yell when they are mad. They are quick to smile. They have a wickedly dark sense of humor. They wear great tee shirts. One man, missing both legs from the knees down, was wearing a tee shirt that said, “Wounded Warrior, Some Assembly Required.” Another was wearing one of the ubiquitous shirts with the picture of a crown. Above the crown it said, “Stay calm” and below the crown it said, “And return fire.” I loved these gals and guys. They quickly became our people, and I hope that we became theirs.
In our work at Mologne House we inhabited a world where suffering stood side by side with hope, pain with laughter, rage with empathy. We came to know and love these extraordinary people and their families, and to deeply understand the sacrifices made by them. In the wide range of repertoire and instrumentation, I hear the voices and stories, the humanity and grace that was their journey. Just as the tune, “The Flowers of the Forest” was written in honor of the thousands of Scottish soldiers whose lives were lost in the Battle of Flodden fought on September 9, 1513, this CD stands as our tribute to the men and women who serve and have served, and their families.
I was talking with a total stranger today who said, “You play with Ryan McKasson? He’s one of the best Scottish fiddlers in the world!” I could easily have heard the same enthusiasm and awe had I said the names of Isaac Alderson, Jackie Moran, Sue Richards, Hanneke Cassel, or Kathryn Montoya – not in the context of Scottish fiddling, but for piping, or bodhran and banjo, or Celtic harp, fiddle (Hanneke really does transcend so many genres) or early winds.
I don’t think of Ensemble Galilei as a super-group of Celtic and Early music players. I think of us as old friends, not in the “I’m going to call you every day with news about my new puppy” but more in the “I’ve seen you in your pajamas in the hallway of that hotel in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or Ogden, Utah” or any number of the cities and towns that we have performed in over the last two and a half decades. We have been together in some of the best of times, and have met up again on the road in some of the hardest times.
I remember when we first met Hanneke because we were in Mobile, Alabama on New Year’s Eve of the new millennium. I remember when we first played with Ryan because he was subbing for Hanneke in West Palm Beach, and he played the show even though he had spent the night in the emergency room before his flight, and showed up with his finger in a splint. He still rocked the house. Sue and I go back to 1987, and when Kathryn joined us on a tour in the Midwest in the fall of 2002, we had one rehearsal and she blew our socks off. Liz Knowles told us we had to meet Jackie Moran sometime in the mid-2000’s and thank God she did because he’s not only one of the finest Irish musicians that there is, he’s game for anything (and easily completed the “honey-do” list of a famous actor in LA on his day off – wiring, plumbing, he can do it all.) I don’t even know what to say about Isaac. From the first note of this recording, he says it all, himself.
We are not the same people that we were when we met. Ensemble Galilei is not the same group we were when we did our first concert in 1990. And while we have made many recordings through the years, this one is different. Each person’s gifts shine brightly. Each voice is clear and true. It is darkness, and it is light.
Carolyn Surrick, September 9, 2018
Plan BIt happens all the time. Life is headed in one direction, and then it’s not. You are going on vacation in December to the islands, and instead you find yourself on a beach in Delaware in May. One never knows what’s around the corner.
When we started recording a CD based on Ensemble Galilei’s new project, Between War and Here, I thought it was possible that the music would be fairly dark. Certainly intense. After all, the show is based on the lives of wounded warriors, and the experiences of war correspondents.
We spent three days in February at the Sono Luminus studio in Boyce, Virginia, and then another day in April, and one in May. The sessions were spread out so that the totality of the music was not really clear, but I went ahead with marketing and design. It was going to be titled Georgia Avenue (the street in Washington DC that bordered Walter Reed) and we would use something edgy for the cover art.
Then we started to edit. Listening began, followed by sequencing – one of my favorite parts of the process. A good sequence for a recording means that the tunes flow, one piece to the next, in such a way that the listener is transported to the inner self of the music. There are no jarring moments. There are no transitions that startle. Listening becomes a journey that reveals as much about the person hearing the CD, as it does about the recording.
But after it was sequenced, and then listened to in every possible circumstance (in the foreground, the background, while doing dishes), it was clear that it was not predominantly dark. It was not unbelievably intense. It was something else entirely. It was beautiful. Some of it was haunting. Some of it was joyous and brilliant. It took my breath away.
I called our producer, Dan Merceruio to check in. “Dan, I need your help. I don’t think the title of the CD matches the music. What do you think?” His reply was suitably wise, “What tune is the heart of the music for you?” and my answer was instantly, “The Flowers of the Forest.” “Okay then” he replied.
Now what? I had written the liner notes to go with the title, Georgia Avenue. I had already started working with the designer on the cover art. But Dan was right. We were on to Plan B. If the title was going to be The Flowers of the Forest, then what was the cover going to be? To complicate matters, the tune was written about a battle between England and the Scotland in 1513 that took the lives of ten thousand Scottish soldiers. It is an important and meaningful tune. How do we express it all?
Last week I was on vacation in the west. Passing through Choteau, Montana, I looked up the location of the town graveyard. It was beautiful. It was wooded. There were graves of civil war soldiers, there was a section for Veterans, there was a stone bench. This is it, I thought. I took some photos, and after a time we moved on.
That night, as I looked at the pictures and did some rudimentary editing, I thought there might be something there. Maybe. At least it was a start.
Early the next morning we went in search of breakfast. We were pretty far north in Montana and there weren’t a lot of choices. We tried one café. It was closed. We drove by another that was famous for pies, but there were no good reviews about their breakfast. We drove further north, stopping just about 15 miles from the Canadian border in the tiny town of Babb. We climbed into a booth, settled in, and ordered our eggs and toast.
On the wall behind the cash register was a blackboard with that day’s specials. More importantly, at the bottom, below the description the breakfast burrito, was a beautiful drawing of mountains and sky, all done in chalk. A few minutes later a customer asked to talk with the artist (who was washing dishes). The customer was an art designer from some big city and I didn’t hear most of the conversation, but it was lovely to see the young artist acknowledged.
Our breakfasts were great. Just right. But then I thought about my conundrum about cover art and my proximity to an artist whose chalk drawing was one of the most beautiful things I had seen in a long time. I went up to the counter and asked to speak to him. I told him that I was a musician working on a new CD, and that we were looking for cover art. “Do you think you might be interested?” I asked. That was the beginning.
We talked about the sorrow of the title, the courage of the wounded warriors at Walter Reed, the way that we can sometimes find our way out of darkness, and flowers. Not any old flowers, but the flowers that grow in the mountains. The flowers that really, really want to grow and seem to know that they don’t have long to live, so they are bigger, more beautiful, and then they are gone.
We talked about money and time and shook hands. That was a Thursday. On Monday morning, back on the east coast, my inbox contained an email from Leif Anderberg. There were four pictures attached, three showing detail and one of the entire watercolor. I cried when I opened it. His work held all of the ideas and more, and it was beautiful.
—Carolyn Surrick, July 31, 2018
The Flowers of the Forest