September 17, 2020 – Reflections on The Singing Guitar

It’s been a joy to anticipate the release of The Singing Guitar. Longtime Conspirare listener Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, composed a reflection that captures the wonder of this latest release:

As When the Guitar begins, we hear single notes—medium to low to high and back again—measured, clear, a pattern.  Our sensory imagination feels the pressure and release of fingers plucking strings. A cloud of sound moves in, as if on a warm breeze, and we intuit a chorus of voices, barely words, wafting above the guitar. Saying “guitar.” The word, the instrument, its sound, its player, the singers who say the word: Layers. Sculptural dimension. Colors interweave. A poem. It builds, until soloists step forward with their lilting cries, female, then male, notes bending, sliding, fluttering in some kind of air. A braid of guitar, song, cry. Song magnifies, a blanket of aspiration, soft, soaring, a multitude, with reverent strings.  Cries return, soulful, nimble.  All parts respected, supported, resolved: Voices woven by strings. Read Annette’s full essay.

August 27, 2020 – The Salt of the Earth: A Heartfelt Tribute

Craig Hella Johnson, and many Texas artists including previous Conspirare Christmas guest artists Ruthie Foster and Carrie Rodriguez, recently contributed their voices to a powerful song produced by Austin singer-songwriter Sara Hickman. The Hard Working People Project was produced by Sara Hickman to bring awareness to the fact so many of us are working tirelessly and courageously during this time of COVID-19. From mail carriers, nurses, doctors, grocery store employees, mom & pop shop owners, garbage collectors, non-profits, protesters, teachers, neighbors…you. Sara & The Hard Working People Project wanted to say we see you, we hear you, we love you, we are you. We are all in this scary time together and music can bring us hope, healing and love. Sara reflected that,  “As a producer, collaborating with Craig and the 30 other singers and musicians to remotely create ‘Salt of the Earth’ was a thrill! This heartfelt tribute is dedicated to all the tireless, courageous and hope filled hard working people in this scary time of COVID-19.”

Listen to “Salt of the Earth” and stay tuned for the forthcoming video (where we hear we’ll be seeing Craig and the other artists!).

July 21, 2020 – Craig Hella Johnson on Creativity Within Limitations

So many of you wrote to express how excited you were to gather with Craig and each other for last week’s KI Concerts webinar, Music Renewal. Attendees tuned in from across the country. One attendee reflected, “[I] was so thankful for the subject matter he covered with grace and empathy. The topic of self-care for artists of any sort is so important now.”

Thank you to KI Concerts for creating the opportunity to gather.

We invite you to view webinar by clicking here.

July 13, 2020 – Music Renewal: A Conversation with Craig Hella Johnson

KI Concerts and Conspirare Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson are longtime collaborators, bringing together choirs from around the world for meaningful musical journeys. Join Craig and Oliver for Music Renewal: A Conversation with Craig Hella Johnson  on Tuesday, July 14 at 4 pm Central. The conversation will explore how to maintain, redefine, and renew our inspiration and focus as we seek to determine how and when our ensembles will be able to meet in a safe and purposeful way.

In the words of KI President Oliver Scofield, “This conversation with Craig Hella Johnson’ at this time of uncertainty, disruption and even fear will speak to the heart as only he can. Just as Craig is able to find unique bridges between pieces of music, so too is the connectivity he sees in this COVID related journey we are all on now freshly seen and articulated. How we care for ourselves and respond creatively at a time of imperfection – along with the love and generosity we need provide through service as our music continues to define and nourish the human soul – will form a part of the discussion.

Craig has led festivals for KI Concerts around the world touching every singer and audience member swept up in the experience. His passion becomes the text, able to amplify and touch others through performance empowering collective understanding and change. When Craig impacts an individual he impacts the world and the Webinar on Tuesday, July 14, will help nourish and sustain us as we prepare for the 2nd half of a year that in many ways still defies comprehension.”

Click here to register for Music Renewal: A Conversation with Craig Hella Johnson.

June 19, 2020 – Soloists Spotlight: Conspirare Celebrates Black Music

Extraordinary musical experiences depend on the diverse talents of world-class singers, composers and songwriters. As we celebrate Juneteenth and Black Music Month, Conspirare spotlights soloists and members of our Grammy award-winning choir.
Soprano Melissa Givens is a long time Conspirare singer and her beloved performance of the soprano solo in “The Road Home is included on our first Grammy-nominated recording, Requiem. Melissa is also featured in “Motherless Child” on Sing Freedom! and “The Fence (After)” from Considering Matthew Shepard.

 

Soprano and guest artist Nicole Joseph and The African Children’s Choir were most recently heard at Conspirare Christmas 2019. Nicole captivated audiences as part of the soprano trio in “The Beatitudes” on the Grammy-winning Sacred Spirit of Russia and is the soloist in “Hard Trials” on Sing Freedom!.

 

Internationally-acclaimed soloist Dashon Burton was the soloist in The Poet Sings and can be heard in “Fire of the Ancient Heart” and “The Fence (that night)” on Considering Matthew Shepard

 

Audiences will know Charles Wesley Evans from Great Big Choruses concert and can hear him as a featured artist on several Conspirare albums: One Voice, Sing Freedom!’s “My God is a Rock” and “Ha-Lo Chochma tikra” from our most recent Christmas release, Go Light Your World.

Ruthie Foster has headlined three Conspirare Christmases, infusing her Grammy-nominated blues music and leaving audiences wanting more. In his review of her 2013 appearance, critic Mike Greenberg said, ‘Foster delivered her solos – among them, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “I Wonder as I Wander,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Feeling Good” – with a mighty river of a voice and effortless, fluid phrasing. The chorus joined her in convincing gospel style for Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free.’

Conspirare’s repertoire includes music written by Black composers. Sing Freedom! highlights the African-American spiritual, including arrangements by Moses Hogan and renowned composer William Levi Dawson. Conspirare Christmas, known for its collage of musical genres and influences, has included selections from Black singer-songwriters including Nina Simone, Stevie WonderBill Withers, and Ruthie Foster.

Please enjoy and share our Conspirare Black Music Month playlist on Spotify where you can enjoy all of these artists’ inspiring performances. Be sure to explore the hyperlinks above where you can learn more about these artists and their work with Conspirare.

June 10, 2020 – Virtual Victoria Bach Festival

Conspirare and the Victoria Bach Festival have been long-time collaborators and this week VBF is offering a wonderful online festival  that features live conversation and archival footage that includes many shared artists and treasured Conspirare performances of years past. Click here for a complete schedule.

We invite you to enjoy the programs that include Conspirare choirs and our Victoria Bach Festival friends. The programs remain available even after the date has passed. Please note: the program begins a few minutes into the video. Feel free to skip the intro music!

 

May 13, 2020 – Connecting with Choir Students Across the Country

For years, choir directors have conducted their students in performances of Craig’s compositions and arrangements and played Conspirare recordings in their classrooms.

Now, as choral directors take their choir classes online directors from across the country are inviting Craig to speak directly with their choirs. On May 7 Craig  visited with about 135 choir students who attend Central York High School students in York, Pennsylvania. This school’s program includes three choirs: two curricular ensembles (one is mostly 9th grade while the other is upperclassmen) and an extracurricular chamber ensemble. Their director, Tim Lambert programs a variety of repertoire – everything  from Vivaldi’s Gloria to Kirby Shaw’s arrangement of “Bridge over Troubled Water.” His students love musical theater and contemporary selections, and shared that Craig’s thoughtful arrangement of popular or folk tunes really resonates with them.

We asked Tim to reflect on the experience. Here is what he had to say in his own words:

“At the end of March, we transitioned to online learning like many schools across the nation. Obviously, my first thoughts were that choir is not something that lends itself to that learning environment. I decided to transition the class to a survey of choral literature/artists with discussions focusing on the music, the art form as a whole, and our world around us. One of our earlier listening pieces was Craig’s “Will There Really Be a Morning,” and the students were absolutely enamored with it and found a lot of comfort in its music and message. We had also sung a few of Craig’s compositions/arrangements over the past few years: “Let the River Run,” “I Love You/What a Wonderful World,” and “Requiem.” So, they were already familiar with his work. I realized that a professor of mine from my undergraduate at Bucknell University was a mutual connection with Craig, and I decided to reach out.

Once Craig agreed, I prepared preparatory materials and listening selections to give the students more background on Craig and Conspirare. They listened to performances of yours, read about your mission and values, and watched some of Craig’s talks on YouTube. After going through the prep materials, they were each asked to submit 3 questions they would like me to ask him. I pulled out the themes from these questions to form talking points for the interview. We focused the discussion on choral music and how it functions in our world. We talked about Craig’s process for composing, his voice as an artist, and other pieces of advice he would have for young musicians. Craig and I conducted the interview on Zoom, and I live-streamed the call to YouTube so that the students could watch and participate through the chat. This interview presented a great opportunity to show my students more of the “real world” side of what we do. While our main focus during a “typical” school year is to build fundamental musicianship through performance of quality repertoire, I also try to incorporate experiences that teach them about being a professional and what is happening in the choral scene beyond our high school. I love to provide them with opportunities to speak with people who are really doing it so that they can learn about the skills and traits that make for a successful artist and person.

The student responses have been phenomenal. They have all been affected by Craig’s passion and the moving work that you all do in Conspirare. They were inspired by his story — especially knowing that someone who is so successful started out like them! His message of following your heart and living your passions has been a common takeaway that I’ve been reading in their responses. They all have commented that they want to take his ideas of self-acceptance and generosity in performance and carry them through into their own artistic endeavors but also their lives as a whole.”

You can view the complete recording of Craig and Tim’s interview here. During the pandemic, Craig has visited with The University of Texas Men’s Chorus (Austin, TX), Oregon State University Chamber Choir (Corvallis, OR), Yale Voxtet (New Haven, CT), St. Norbert College (De Pere, WI), Cantabile Youth Choir (San Jose, CA), St. Olaf Chapel Choir (Northfield, MN), University of Georgia Conducting Seminar (Athens, GA), Bard High School Early College Queens (New York, NY), and All Saints Episcopal Youth Choir (Pasadena, CA).

May 10, 2020 – Daily Dose of Hope

Craig joined leaders from across Austin in creating a “Daily Dose of Hope” for Interfaith Action of Central Texas’ Daily Dose of Hope. Read his entry here. iACT created this daily series with the hope it “will inspire you to the core and bring to your heart the gratitude you hold deep.” Previous entries are available here.

May 6, 2020 – We Were Made for This

Our very own Craig Hella Johnson was invited to write an article for TMEA’s May 2020 issue of Southwestern Musician. Craig shares his own inspirational story expressing and discussing the challenges during this time, especially those of a musician. Texas Music Educators Association is an organization filled with membership 13,000 music educators, a group who successfully monitors all issues affecting the fine arts while supporting Texas schoolchildren. In his article, Craig explores the question, “If I am not a musician, or a teacher, who am I?”.

From Craig and all of us at Conspirare, thank you to our educators for the profoundly important work you are doing.

Click here and turn to page 20 for Craig’s story of finding one’s core self and some words of encouragement to hold close in the coming days.

May 5, 2020

Austin high school student Maxfield Rivers recent podcast features an interview with Conspirare’s Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson. According to Maxfield, Craig’s “Will There Really be a Morning?” inspired him to listen to music more contemplatively. Maxfield’s conversation with Craig explores the  role of artists in this time, how art could change and what we can learn from our current situation. Maxfield plays the cello, sings, and will be majoring in music when he attends college. His podcast series digs into questions surrounding COVID-19’s impact through conversations with experts.

Listen here.

April 20, 2020

Our hearts are so full to have been with so many of you last night for Craig’s “quarantine production.” We were touched to be together with Craig, singers and listeners from Austin to Colorado Springs to Bellaire, MI, and as far away as Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia. Click here to watch again and view a list of song titles and lyrics by clicking here. Here are just a few of the comments you shared:

“What a wonderful birthday gift it was for me!”

“Just what I needed, truly. Thank you for reaching out. You are such a gift to so many. Much love and light….”

“ Thank you, Craig, for this powerful gift from the heart”

April 13, 2020

 

Conspirare Presents: Songs of Connection with Craig Hella Johnson
From Craig’s home to yours! Grammy-winning Conspirare’s Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson will be at the piano to share a handful of songs and poems with you: our friends from around the world. Enjoy the music and connect with Craig and each other in this intimate online watch party with friends. Listeners with YouTube accounts will be able to chat with Craig and fellow listeners during and after the music.

See complete information and RSVP to receive a viewing link by clicking here.

April 8, 2020

Just for you we created two Spotify playlists of songs. One playlist features Craig singing with Conspirare, guest artists Ruthie FosterMatt Alber, and more! These songs speak tenderly to what you have all shared with us about your experiences in this time. The other playlist is curated by our Conspirare artist family, filled with handpicked songs they are turning to in these new days.

If you have a Spotify account you may be prompted for a login. If you don’t have an account, Spotify offers a free version with limited ads.

Click here to listen to “Craig Sings”

Click here to listen to “Tunes for Trying Times”

March 22, 2020

Craig’s Sunday Song – You’ll Never Walk Alone

March 20, 2020

We are thinking about our Conspirare family every day and have a special video from Craig to you.

 

March 17, 2020

dear friends,
such tender and challenging times. thank you for being a part of the conspirare musical family. we love you and we cherish the connection we have with you. during these times, we want to lean into our interconnectedness with you and to experience and remember the strength, joy and solace that we find in each other. we plan to stay intentionally connected with you through that which brought us together in the first place, music.

eliza gilkyson wrote her song “requiem” after the devastating Asian tsunami of 2004 as an invocation to compassion and as a song of prayer and comfort. this pristine song was first sung and recorded by eliza and her daughter. i was moved to create a simple choral arrangement so that we could sing from its universal themes together. we share here conspirare singing eliza’s song.

sent with love,
craig on behalf of all of the conspirare artists, staff and board

“illuminate the path where we are going”

mother mary, full of grace, awaken
all our homes are gone, our loved ones taken
taken by the sea
mother mary, calm our fears, have mercy
drowning in a sea of tears, have mercy
hear our mournful plea
our world has been shaken
we wander our homelands forsaken
in the dark night of the soul
bring some comfort to us all
oh mother mary come and carry us in your embrace
that our sorrows may be faced
mary, fill the glass to overflowing
illuminate the path where we are going
have mercy on us all
in funeral fires burning
each flame to your mystery returning
in the dark night of the soul
your shattered dreamers, make them whole
oh mother mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace
lead us to a higher place
in the dark night of the soul
our broken hearts you can make whole
oh mother mary come and carry us in your embrace
let us see your gentle face, mary

lyrics reprinted with permission of Eliza Gilkyson.
learn more about this album here.