Sometimes we “big-city” types can go a little overboard, but there’s no question that being part of the so-called “critical mass” in New York City has its advantages. And for those who take special pleasure in beautiful choral music (as most readers know, I’m one of them), wandering about pre-pandemic New York provided many splendid choral music performances.
Even during the gloomiest days of the epidemic, thanks to various streaming services, we were able to enjoy considerable inspiration, and I wasn’t shy about telling readers about what I heard. A special case in point: The very rewarding Metropolitan Opera’s “at-home gala” offered on April 25 last year. It was a great success, and I couldn’t resist sharing my impressions of the program with readers (A Little Inspiration Perhaps). The Met’s Chorus and Orchestra offered Verdi’s beloved “Va, pensiero,” performed virtually, and I coupled it with Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell’s “Light Shall Lift Us: Opera Singers Unite in Song,” also performed virtually.
A Special 19th Century Connection
Now there’s more to share. If you do not already know about the Voices of Ascension, permit me to introduce you to this unique chorus, one of the city’s most treasured music institutions. The group’s name comes from New York’s famous Church of the Ascension, at Fifth Avenue at Tenth Street, where Dennis Keene – the Founder and Conductor of Voices of Ascension – is Organist and Choirmaster (an obvious win-win situation for all of us).
The church was founded in 1827 when the Reverend Manton Eastburn, assistant at another church and active in the evangelical movement, was invited by a group of like-minded people to form a parish. He was from England and, at twenty-six years of age, apparently very pleased to have been invited. He accepted, and a certificate of incorporation was signed on October 1, 1827.
The church was built and consecrated in 1829. But following a destructive fire ten years later, a decision was made to select the present site. Richard Upjohn (architect of Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall Street) was chosen to design and build the church, and it was consecrated in November 1841. It was the first church on Fifth Avenue and its overall history has been remarkable. Also well known for its artistic beauty, the church is well described in the short history of the church published at the parish website.
A Musical Gem
Voices of Ascension is one of the world’s premier professional choral ensembles, with – in normal times – an annual series of concerts in New York City. Together with recordings on Delos International, the group has received much positive critical attention and includes (depending on the selections being performed) an ensemble of 20 to 40 singers, all members of AGMA, the American Guild of Musical Artists.
For the past 31 years, Voices of Ascension has provided not only that up-lift and inspiration I so often refer to, with respect to choral music, but a repertoire that is extremely stimulating, both intellectually and historically. I thought I knew a lot about choral music, but I simply can’t describe all that I’ve learned from listening to this group of professional singers. And learning about what they choose to sing.
A Daily Music Performance
And while I began this post with a focus on how we New Yorkers enjoy hearing (and sometimes participating in) much good choral singing, with Voices of Ascension these beautiful choral works are not limited to a New York audience. When our city shut down for the pandemic, Voices of Ascension started sharing a short daily program, sent to subscribers through the group’s mailing list (I’ve also not been shy about recommending these daily performances to my friends, both local and international).
Since March 2020, these performances have become a special musical habit for many of us, eagerly looked forward to each morning. And the range of music performed has been impressive, all bringing a special moment to each day. All of the daily selections, going back to March 2020, are available at the Voices of Connection blog, a special link to the daily programs.
To receive the daily programs, simply put yourself on the Voice of America mailing list. The programs are expected to continue through September, but check out the appeal below, since funding will be stretched during the post-pandemic recovery and the company is seeking support in order to continue the daily programs.
In a recent comment, Dennis Keene said what is probably the most appropriate way to think about the daily programs: “I hope this project continues to bring you peace as it has done for us.” I am in total agreement.
A post-pandemic recovery concert called Voices of Spring! was streamed last night. It was a special event featuring Voices of Ascension’s first newly recorded choral music in over a year, and it was an exceptional pleasure, featuring some the group’s favorite music. We heard works by Mozart, Brahms, Palestrina, Fauré, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kern, and traditional spirituals.
And coming up next Saturday (June 19th, at 5pm), many of us are looking forward to Voices of Spring Outdoors, as Voices of Ascension returns to live in-person concerts for its first concert of the year. At the beautiful Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers, just north of New York City, the concert will be a repeat of last night’s recorded program, and it will be a very welcome celebration for all of us. And being outdoors at that time of day, for beautiful singing? We’re ready for it. For tickets, directions to the venue, and other information, be in touch with Voices of Ascension as noted below.
Supporting Voices of Ascension
Like all performing arts institutions, the pandemic has seriously affected the organization’s resources, and Voices of America needs support. Look at the Voices of Ascension support page at the group’s site and do what you can. It would be a very worthwhile contribution to this remarkable New York institution.
Voices of Ascension
12 East 11th Street
New York, NY 10011
Tax ID 13-3668472