we fall in love so easily.
We hear the opening strains
of a waltz,
a slow air, a reel,
a hymn –
and our hearts
are no longer our own.
They belong to the music.
A Change of Worlds, Ensemble Galilei
When we are creating new work, we sit in a circle. Jackie has his banjo in his lap, Sue is perched behind her harp, Ryan and Hanneke have fiddles in hand, Kathryn is holding a recorder with whistles strewn around her feet, and I am waiting, gamba sideways, guitar style.
We grew up in very different worlds. Hanneke and Ryan played Scottish music the way other kids played baseball. As a teenager, Kathryn was steeped in music from the Renaissance and Baroque. Jackie lived and played in Ireland and Chicago, which pretty much says it all. Sue has one foot in Irish music and the other in Scottish music (with toes dipped in the music of Sweden.) I am more at home with Josquin and Dufay than Mozart and Chopin. But here we sit, together. Listening.
“I love that tune, but everyone has recorded it.” It’s all about tunes with traditional players. In those remarkable brains live hundreds, if not thousands of tunes. “We need something in D.” Out of nowhere pop five reels in D. Someone says, “Can we slow it down?”
Jackie’s playing Phil Cunningham’s poignant Monday Morning Reel and we get busy. Sue starts working on the chords. I pick up the bass line. Hanneke adds a harmony. Ryan grabs his viola and takes it down an octave. Kathryn tries a recorder, a whistle, and then a whistle in a different range. The tune starts to take shape. And we have fallen in love.
Every track on this CD has its own story. Hanneke and Ryan have been playing James Scott Skinner’s Hector the Hero since they were teenagers. Skinner wrote the piece for his friend, Major General Hector MacDonald who committed suicide after being slandered in the press. Pretty Girl Milking the Cow was the first tune that Sue taught me, more than twenty years ago. Jackie’s 1921 fit perfectly with Tony Sullivan’s Exile of Erin.
The traditional Scottish and Irish tunes come out of thin air. At least that’s how it seems. I know that they really come from a session in a bar in Dublin, or Seattle, or from late nights hanging out in hotel rooms after the gig where everyone sits and plays (and maybe there’s a six-pack of Guinness or a bottle of Jameson’s nearby) and the title of the tune might end up being Salmon Fishing or Full Rigged Ship, and sometimes there is no name that anyone can remember, and someone will say, “You know, that jig in G that starts like this…” then there’s a nod and fingers fly. And later, like the tune, the name comes out of thin air.
But what about beauty? We needed a piece that was simply stunningly beautiful and Kathryn brought Te Mane Laudum Carmine. Counterpoint can be a gateway to a new way of listening, and from our side, a new way of playing. It requires a Zen-like capacity to be in the moment of music. Peel away vibrato, replace chord progressions with dissonance and resolution, find the internal melodies and play them like there’s no tomorrow. And breathe. This was a gift to us from Michael Praetorius.
From hymn to hymn. Redemption is good. Resurrection is good. Survival is good. We are a group that specializes in Traditional and Early music, not usually American music. But there are times when a melody speaks to you, cajoling, murmuring, reminding, endlessly returning—demanding attention, demanding an arrangement, demanding inclusion. Such was What Wondrous Love is This and when Ryan’s viola met the gamba it was breathtaking.
The Dust Bowl uses Wondrous Love as its thematic material, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In these most recent hard times, we look back at The Great Depression to see what defines us as a country. A gritty will to survive, a fierce determination to move past hardship, and the capacity to find camaraderie and joy in the midst of despair. It was not the beautiful piece I intended to write, but it was the piece that was to be written at the end of 2009.
They come like that sometimes. For Sue, No Longer Mourn for Me arrived after the loss of a friend who fought and lost, a battle against cancer, too young. Sue did not spend days perfecting each note, it simply arrived, in her heart, ready to be written down.
Most of our CDs have been recorded in a studio where each musician is sonically isolated. We wear headphones, sometimes watching a video monitor to see the other musicians, and play. For this CD we recorded Sono Luminus-style. We sat together in a circle in the middle of a renovated church, making music in a most extraordinary fashion. If we had been recording a piece like Culloden in a recording studio, we would have done two or three takes of the entire piece and then each person would have gone back to fix whatever problems there might have been in their own part until the entire piece was perfect. Not so, Sono Luminus-style. For this CD we were required to share our failures and our triumphs. It was a passionate and focused, afternoon of making music. We were all playing our best, perhaps even better than our best. Culloden was a revelation.
On the last day, Hanneke, Ryan, and Jackie recorded the fiddle duet. Sue and I stood outside the door of the church, listening, as they burned through the tunes. It seemed a perfect end to the week. Exuberant, brilliant and a little like hearing musicians standing on the edge of a cliff defying gravity, their playing soared and blew the roof off the church, leaving us all smiling.
All of the music recorded for this CD is part of First Person: Seeing America – a collaboration between Ensemble Galilei and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This multi-disciplinary project includes photographs from the Met, poetry and prose about America, and the music of Ensemble Galilei, and premiered in New York in October of 2010. It will tour through 2015.
Hanneke Cassel (fiddle) is the 1997 U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance from Berklee College of Music, and she has performed and taught across the globe. Her fiddling has graced the stages of Boston’s Symphony Hall (opening for Judy Collins), Mountain Stage, The Plaza Hotel, Lincoln Center, the Boston Hatch Shell, and the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. A native of Port Orford, Oregon, Hanneke started playing classical violin when she was 8 years old. She met fiddler Carol Ann Wheeler when she was 10 at a Texas-style fiddle contest, started taking fiddle lessons with her, and began competing in contests throughout the Northwest. In 1991, Hanneke captured the U.S. National Scottish Jr. Championship. With this honor came a scholarship to study on the Isle of Skye, Scotland with the renowned Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and Cape Breton master Buddy MacMaster. These two quickly became her fiddle heroes and continue to inspire her music to this day. Hanneke’s exuberance for fiddling is also a product of the summers of her teen years, spent in fiddle camps in Scotland, Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle Camp in Nashville, and Alasdair Fraser’s Valley of the Moon Fiddle School in California. She continues to be an active member of the Boston music scene, and is featured on Darol Anger’s CD Diary of a Fiddler on the Compass Records label.
Ryan McKasson (fiddle) claimed the National Scottish Junior Fiddle Championship in 1995 and went on to become the youngest National Scottish Fiddle Open Champion in 1996. He has shared the stage with Elvis Costello, Beck, Bjork, Gavin Friday and composer Phillip Glass, among others. His Seattle-based band, McKassons, plays to packed houses, bringing an American sensibility to traditional Scottish folk—songs that have the feel of Celtic music blended with the spirit of folk rock and bluegrass.
Kathryn Montoya (oboes, whistle & recorder) is completing a doctorate at Indiana University, where she studied historical oboes with Washington McClain and recorder with Eva Legêne. She holds degrees from Oberlin Conservatory and Indiana University. Ms. Montoya has performed with many ensembles, including Apollo’s Fire, The Newberry Consort, Ensemble Arion, the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Opera Theatre, Aradia Ensemble, and the Washington Bach Consort. She is a recipient of the prestigious Performers Certificate at Indiana University and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Germany. Kathryn was a finalist in the American Bach Soloist Competition and has appeared as a soloist with the Bloomington Early Music Festival Orchestra and the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. In the summer of 2005 she performed with the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra in the world premiere of Johann Mattheson’s Boris Goudenow and was on faculty at Oberlin’s Baroque Performance Institute. Kathryn has recorded for the Naxos label.
Jackie Moran, (drums) was born in Tipperary, the son of an accordion player. Ten-year-old Jackie and his family immigrated to Chicago where he quickly began drumming with the best players in the Irish music scene. The young boy became the man who is preeminent in Chicago Irish music. No less than famed fiddler, Liz Carroll says that’s true. “I just think he’s the best of the best in our area of the country – and all over. I don’t want to give him a swelled head but he’s a really terrific drummer.” – Liz Carroll
A founding and driving force of such influential bands as The Drovers, Wilding, Comas, Bua, and The Otters, Jackie is a fixture in the studio and in concert settings, sympathetically accompanying such great artists as Daire Bracken, Kevin Burke, Dennis Cahill, Liz Carroll, John Doyle, Alain Genty, Martin Hayes, Paddy Keenan, Philip Masure, David Munnelly, Aidan Burke, Daithi Rua, and Jimmy Keane.
Jackie’s talents have also led him to appear on stage with Riverdance, and to help form and perform with the Trinity Irish Dance Company. And when Hollywood needs a musician to play the part, and look it as well, you’ll see Jackie. Backdraft (1991), Blink (1993), Traveler (1997) and The Road to Perdition (2002) all saw fit to feature Jackie and his Bodhrán. Living just outside of Chicago with his wife, Amy, and their daughters, Caroline and Sophie, Jackie also teaches the Bodhrán—and makes them, too!
Sue Richards (harp) is a traditional musician and collector of tunes. As a child she studied classical harp in Ohio with Lucy Lewis and Jean Harriman, and then turned to the Irish and Scottish music of her heritage. She won the American National Scottish Harp Championship four times and is a Scottish Harp Society of America (SHSA) Distinguished Judge. Sue has performed at Celtic Connections and the Edinburgh International Harp Festival in Scotland, and toured Norway and Sweden with the “Harpa” ensemble. She has played for Presidents Clinton and Bush, Queen Elizabeth of England, and sat in with the Chieftains Irish band. She has served as president of SHSA and the Washington, D.C., Folk Harp Society. She currently teaches and directs the harp program at the Ohio Scottish Arts School (OSAS), has taught at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival in Alaska, Summerkeys Music School in Maine, and most of the major harp festivals in the US. She has written many original tunes and several books of arrangements, and has a long list of recordings to her credit.
Carolyn Anderson Surrick (viola da gamba) received a BA in music from UCSC and an MA in musicology from George Washington University. She founded Ensemble Galilei in 1990 and in this extraordinarily democratic organization her official title has always been “Navigatrix”— which refers to her uncanny ability to keep the group on the road and bring new projects to fruition. She has worked with The Hubble Space Telescope Institute to create A Universe of Dreams, partnered with The National Geographic Society on First Person: Stories from the Edge of the World, and now oversees Ensemble Galilei’s collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was in the film, The Pelican Brief, she has recorded for Dorian, Maggie’s Music, Telarc, and NPR Classics, and now, Sono Luminus. Most recently, her playing has taken her, with Sue Richards and Ginger Hildebrand, to The Walter Reed Army Medical Center to play for wounded warriors. The warriors and their families are the inspiration for her book of poetry, Between War and Here, which can be found at www.uppergreenbooks.com.