Ambassadors are the heartbeat of Conspirare and fulfill a critical role at concerts, in our music library, or in our office.
Previously Featured Ambassadors
Mary Shannon Cook
I feel so lucky to be a Conspirare Ambassador! My first volunteer experience was at the Christmas Concert of 2018. The beauty and depth of the music and the performances were astounding, visually rich, and heart-filling. Of course, I was aware of Conspirare before becoming an Ambassador I had heard and read wonderful things, including an interview with Craig Hella Johnson on the Bridge Radio Program. I was inspired and touched by Craig’s interview in part due to his description of a piece of his own life journey and by his emotional and spiritual groundedness. Afterward, I realized how drawn I felt to becoming a part of Conspirare, if only as an audience member.
Fast forward a few years to being an empty nester after raising two wonderful children who were now in college or launching their own adult lives. I was looking for a volunteer opportunity in the cultural realm. As I was leaving Betty and Sala restaurant one evening after a delicious dinner with a friend, I noticed an outdoor event on the patio. My curiosity led me to the greeting table where Kathy and Jamie Leighton sat. They described the event as the annual Conspirare Ambassador Appreciation reception, and of course, I was gleefully and very quickly recruited!
I’ve worked at the University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work for over 20 years focusing on recovery from substance use and mental health disorders and issues related to cultural/racial health equity. As a social worker, I love to hear people’s stories and especially about the events and experiences that have shaped their lives, both the positive and the challenging. Though I have not had formal musical training since I was very young, the music and singing of Conspirare touches me in a way that I find hard to describe. I am a dancer and took ballet lessons for many years. Dancing still engages my full body, senses, and emotions, and that is what I experience while listening and watching a Conspirare performance. Connecting with Conspirare has been such a true and real gift! I feel so much gratitude for this opportunity and I look forward to the return of in-person concerts and to volunteering for the indefinite future.
Alice Day - In loving memory
Craig Hella Johnson likes to remind us that Conspirare means to breathe together. I believe that is the secret to this amazing vocal group’s success. Every vocalist in the group possesses incredible skills, but when they perform, they breathe together. The focus is on the whole, rather than its parts. No prima donnas in this group!
I am a Conspirare Ambassador because I am an unabashed groupie. I try never to miss a Conspirare concert. I love the variety of music they perform and the brilliant, creative way Craig Hella Johnson combines musical styles even in a single piece. Craig’s first concert-length work, Considering Matthew Shepard, is a favorite of mine. It was made even more meaningful to me because I was privileged to hear him speak about the creative process that produced this beautiful piece, which is filled with both exquisite sadness and uplifting hope. Somehow it is able to transcend tragedy. It will be a classic.
Being an Ambassador allows me the privilege of playing a small part in supporting the essential work of bringing outstanding musical performances to our community. I enjoy the staff and the other Ambassadors, whether we are ushering at a concert or helping out in the office. The bond we share is created by our talented leader, Kathy Leighton, who makes our work fun, and fostered by the general goodness of the people involved. Join us!
I arrived in Austin about 17 years ago from Chicago, fleeing from ice, cold and snow and wanting to be closer to my daughter and her family. One of my new Austin friends invited me to join her for a Conspirare concert and that was the beginning for me. My second experience was Considering Matthew Shepard. I walked out of the auditorium, found an Ambassador, and asked how I could be a volunteer with Conspirare. She took my contact information and the very next morning I received a call from Kathy Leighton. I knew that if most of the people involved with this group were as friendly and kind as Kathy, I would love to be an Ambassador. I was also relieved when I discovered a prerequisite wasn’t having a heavenly voice but just being a good listener was welcomed.
I’ve helped with many Big Sings and various concerts as well as rearranging the CYC music library and a variety of office jobs. Being involved in the Conspirare office is a huge plus because of the opportunity to know many of the “behind the scenes” folks. I still believe that Craig Hella Johnson has a touch of magic within him because of the way he presents all of his music and is able to intermingle them. For me, his music is so heartwarming, calming, and even spiritual and I believe most of his audiences would agree. I love to watch them leave our concerts with smiles and lovely comments. This is a volunteer position that gives the Ambassadors so much in return. Being a part of this wonderful group is a pleasure and an honor.
In 2009, Kathy and I bought tickets to hear a, completely unknown to us, choir perform “Rock My Soul” in the Long Center. From the first note, Kathy, typically free with ‘live commentary’ during a concert, was disturbingly quiet … completely transfixed by the performance. As the lengthy applause faded, she promised: “I will sing with that choir one day!”. As I was reliving in my head the magical talent I had just witnessed, I was shaking my head, thinking: “Pretty bold promise …”.
Well, that bold promise turned into an audition (where she told Craig: “I’ll accompany myself, thank you.”), followed by her falling completely in love with the entire Conspirare organization, first as a volunteer, followed by becoming the Front House Manager (continuing singing all the while), and ultimately followed by me becoming Mrs. Leighton’s “designated volunteer”. The rest has been history!
Five years of “front door duty” later (and being one of Robert Harlan’s “fill in roadies” as icing on the cake), I am still excited every concert about what has remained that “magical talent”. In the ensuing years I have begun more traveling for work … Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas, San Antonio. My company and clients have come to understand that projects, work schedules and itineraries all need to indulge this habit. With our daughter, Jaime Leighton, having joined as Conspirare Production Administrator and Webmaster in 2016, the Leighton family has truly become part of the Conspirare Family … and we would have it no other way.
Kim Mosley & Edwin Williams
We have been attending Conspirare shows for over ten years and are always inspired by their deeply moving performances. So when a friend asked if I would help usher at the Conspirare Youth Choir’s Big Sing that our church (Tarrytown United Methodist Church) was hosting, I jumped at the chance. It was a pleasure to get to help such a wonderful group. I enjoyed working with all of the Ambassadors and staff. When Kathy Leighton, Conspirare’s House Manager, asked if I would sign up to be an Ambassador for Conspirare’s next season, of course I agreed. My husband and I planned to only work one or two performances, but we had so much fun doing it, we ended up volunteering for most of the shows, as well as all three Big Sing events. We are glad to able to give back to this amazing group, even if it’s just in a small way. And like all volunteer work that we do, we end up receiving far more than we give. We love getting to greet and meet the diverse audience and experience how the music brings them together in such a powerful way. It is a joy to see all the smiles and hear their grateful comments as they leave. We’ve also enjoyed getting to know some of the singers and the incredible staff that keeps everything running so smoothly. If you are a Conspirare fan, or are just interested in learning more about the group, we would highly recommend becoming an Ambassador. It’s a great way to get connected!
I first joined the Conspirare family as a member of the Symphonic Choir in 2015. My first performance was part of the Great Big Choruses at both the Victoria Bach Festival and the Long Center. It was an incredible introduction to the organization, and I knew instantly that Conspirare was a very special choral organization.I have been fortunate enough to perform with the Symphonic Choir on many occasions for the past four and a half years and have made some wonderful friendships along the way. About a year ago, the lovely Kathy Leighton made an announcement in a Symphonic Choir rehearsal that they were looking for more ambassadors. I didn’t know what serving as an ambassador entailed, but when it was explained to me that I could volunteer at a variety of Conspirare performances, enjoy those performances for free, and sincerely help an organization that I believe in and love with all my heart… there was no hesitation. I signed up immediately. In that year, I have made even more friendships, enjoyed some blissfully beautiful music made by all choirs in the Conspirare family and the community at Big Sing events, and even brought in some of my students from Dripping Springs High School to volunteer! Conspirare is changing the world and changing lives through their music and outreach, and their mission is something I deeply want to be a part of. If you’ve been considering whether or not to join as an ambassador – please do! It will be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made, and the perfect way to give back to an organization that gives the world so much.
“I participate with Conspirare because, in so doing I surround myself with the most inspiring people. Whether singing under the direction of Craig Hella Johnson and the other profoundly experienced and talented Conspirare musical leaders or Austin Symphony’s Peter Bay, I know every Conspirare practice or performance will be inspiring.” Now in his 10th year with Conspirare, Bill’s service as an Ambassador includes helping with administration, stage setup, and performance assistance. Bill is not a musician by training, but a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine officer turned military scientific intelligence analyst, turned economist, turned patent & trademark lawyer. The Conspirare standards of personal excellence, musical development, and community building inspire Bill, as he grows in both his music and his profession of technology, legal right and regional economic development.
Virginia Hyde & Rod Howard
We have been computer programmers for about 45 years. We worked in Silicon Valley (south of San Francisco) for 25 of those years, in various locations as we traveled around the country in an RV for 10 others, and the most recent 10 years here in Austin. The two activities that we enjoy the most are volunteering with different organizations and travelling. Other organizations that we enjoy volunteering with are Zach Theatre, Austin Chamber Music Center, Austin Classical Guitar, La Follia, and Keep Austin Beautiful. We love helping out all of these marvelous organizations! The rest of our free time is spent travelling whenever possible. We had the chance to see most of the United States during our full time RV’ing years. Now that we have ‘hung up the RV keys’ we have had the chance to explore places that would be difficult to drive to, such as Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Spain, England, and France. We are currently planning a three week adventure in Germany and Austria, two places that we have always dreamed of visiting.
In the fall of 2006 a friend gave me a Conspirare CD. I was spellbound! For the next three weeks that was the only thing in my CD player. I learned the words to every song and sang along at the top of my lungs in my car. (I’m only a “wannabe” singer!) I was transported! Soon after that I called Conspirare to inquire about volunteering. My first ushering job was Christmas at the Carillon 2006. Since then I’ve done a million different volunteer jobs for Conspirare – file music, stuff and stamp envelopes, organize the music library, mail music to the singers, sell CDs, work “Will Call” & ticket sales and of course ushering.Being associated with Conspirare has been life-changing for me and even though I don’t sing, I’ve found lots of ways to help and be involved. And my husband and I were honored to support the creation and premiere of “Considering Matthew Shepherd” and it’s been a delight to see its success. Conspirare re-awakened my love for singing and choral music. I remember as a child, singing along to 78 rpm albums of every popular Broadway musical. I am humbled to have been a Conspirare volunteer for over ten years and I look forward to another ten!
I’ve had the privilege of being part of Conspirare as a singer and Ambassador for almost three years now, and I really do feel like I’m part of a big, happy family (a wondrous thing for this only child :-)! I came to be an Ambassador when my dear friend Gay Bullard asked if I’d like to take her place ushering at the Carillon. Wow! I had only dreamed about hearing Conspirare there, so I jumped at the opportunity, and have kept coming back ever since. Serving as an Ambassador allows me to give back to an organization that is truly a gift to me and the greater Austin community. Craig, the singers and staff all embody a love of music and humanity, and I deeply feel that during each concert and interaction. Outside of Conspirare, my time wanders between leadership roles at Church of Conscious Harmony, singing in the Compline Choir at St. David’s Episcopal, two part-time office jobs and caring for my joy-filled 2yr-old granddaughter, Ava. I am truly blessed!
Hi! I’m Lauren and I’m a Conspirare superfan! I also happen to be a Conspirare singer, a Conspirare donor, a Conspirare volunteer, and a former Conspirare employee! I so value my time as a volunteer and think that it’s the perfect combination of “good vibes” for me: I get to donate my time and efforts to a wildly deserving cause, I get to stay connected and involved in an organization so dear to my heart, and most importantly I get to be fully immersed in world-class musical experiences! I am always so blown away by how different each performance can be, considering the breadth of Craig’s programming and the unique qualities featured in each contrasting venue. Truly no two are alike! I thought moving out of the Austin area would alter my ability to dedicate time to Conspirare, but that turned out to be wrong! I’m able to be a “local” volunteer on the ground at Houston concerts when the group travels, plus I don’t mind the short trip back to ATX for those extra special Holiday concerts or the annual Hidden Music Gala. If you’re in an area outside of Austin, don’t let that stop you from getting involved! It’s such a rewarding contribution to not only Conspirare, but also to your own ears and heart!
I am honored to be a newly initiated ambassador for Conspirare…in fact, I might just be the newest! My interest and support of Conspirare, however, is not new. I can’t even remember the first concert I attended but I remember having the full-body sensation that what I was hearing and experiencing was unique, transformative and had just raised the bar for me for choral performances from that moment forward.
I have long admired Craig’s unparalleled depth of talent, knowledge and emotional/spiritual connection that is infused into every piece of work he conducts, the quality of singers and the inspiration that is instilled in me every time I leave a performance. What a wealth of talent we have right here in Austin! How lucky are we!
Naturally, I have thoroughly enjoyed volunteering at performances and helping with some of the behind the scenes tasks that make this incredible organization thrive. Now that I’m an empty-nester, I have time to give back to a group that continues to bring so much beauty, light and hope to our community.
I have lived in Austin for over 35 years now. I moved here to attend the University of Texas and never left. I just celebrated 28 years of marriage to my husband Ken. We live in SW Austin in an Earthship that we built out of recycled tires and dirt!
My 2 favorite passions in life are singing and signing. I have sung in a myriad of ensembles and choruses over the course of my life and my “day job” is working as a Sign Language Interpreter, Freelance and Video Relay. Both are creative expressive outlets for me…one using my hands, the other using my voice. I look forward to singing in Australia this summer with Craig and friends.
Melissa has lived in Austin since 1996, and for many of those years has sung with Craig Johnson through the University of Texas School of Music choral program, the Victoria Bach Festival, and with Conspirare Symphonic. Over time, she has enjoyed seeing Conspirare take root and grow to reach a broad and diverse community, and bridge generations of singers and listeners. As a singer and supporter (and fan!), assisting with the production side of concerts became a natural extension of fellowship within the organization, to aiding the wonderful individuals who make Conspirare run. Melissa is an operational and grants management professional at the University of Texas’ Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, working with research programs and initiatives that help increase civic discovery and involvement, enhance the quality of communication, and educate and inspire people to connect with their communities—a mission she believes shares much with Conspirare’s role in the community!
Taja D. Beekley serves as the manager for the Asian American Resource Center, housed within the City of Austin’s Parks & Recreation Department. She oversees a wide array of special events as well as educational and social programs. Taja began working on cultural initiatives while receiving her master’s degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas. Throughout her professional career, she has displayed a strong commitment to community outreach and engagement. She enrolled in her first volunteer shift with Conspirare in 2009 for a performance at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church. Taja has a passion for world travel, international cuisine and karaoke. As a native of Central Texas, she is also very happy to spend time with family, long-time friends and her dog, Willoughby.
The Conspirare Christmas concert last year sparked my interest in becoming an Ambassador for Conspirare. I had moved to Georgetown, and a friend invited me to join a group that has attended the Christmas concerts for many years. I had never seen or heard a choral group that blended so many types of music together so seamlessly – it was love at first listen!
Shortly afterward, I mentioned to a friend how much I was impressed by Conspirare and, as luck would have it, she is the sister of Kathy Leighton, Conspirare’s House Manager and Ambassador Coordinator. She put me in touch with Kathy, and the rest is history in the making!
My first experience as an Ambassador was the Remembering Matthew Shepard performance. It was one of the most moving pieces of music I have ever experienced and touched me deeply. I really enjoyed interacting with the patrons; Kathy and the other Ambassadors made me feel welcome right away.
I retired to Texas, my home state, after many years of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a career in legal recruiting. I love music of all kinds, from classical to jazz to rock to world music. One of my goals in retirement is to give back to the community, and I am sure that participating in Conspirare will be an important part of those efforts.
The “Sing Freedom” performance at St. Martin’s Lutheran sparked my interest in volunteering with Conspirare. At concert end I sought out Nicki Turman, House Manager at the time, who said I could join her team of volunteer ushers at the beginning of the next season. In the years since “Sing Freedom” I have participated as much as possible: ushering, selling CDs, and helping as needed. The singers, current House Manager Kathy Leighton, and the rest of the staff help me feel like part of the “Conspirare family.”
Volunteering with Conspirare is one of my favorite things I do, partly because it helps “balance” my life. Family, friends, and colleagues notice the joy it brings me. Professionally, I am a Social Worker who practices in medical / health care settings. The work is gratifying, but family, friends, and colleagues notice the particular joy I experience from a Conspirare performance.
I enjoy other music, artwork, and museum activities, often accompanied by one or more of my exceptional high school and college age nieces who genuinely enjoy the arts. I’m active in my church, Life In The City, an arts-supporting Methodist congregation. I have the most adorable little Silky Terrier mix, Kitzi, who loves to take me on walks. We also have fun hanging out with our neighbor dogs and their human “parents.”
I feel honored to be part of something as unique and special as Conspirare. I find it challenging to adequately describe the “Conspirare experience” to those who have never attended a performance. I usually start by saying, “This is not your grandmother’s choir!” In truth, the Conspirare experience is a multi-layered, diaphanous, floating veil of sound that flows over and around the listener. It transforms the listener beyond hearing to actually feeling the music.
I’ve been a special ed teacher for the past 21 years. I love supporting organizations that are important to me and my community. Besides being a part of the Conspirare family (since 2006), I enjoy volunteering with the wonderful folks at the Long Center, the Heritage Society of Austin, the Capital Area Food Bank, Water to Thrive, Keep Austin Beautiful, and the Pease Park Conservancy.
Why do I volunteer? The answer can be summed up in one word: Passion! I love being with people who are passionate about what they do.
I started volunteering for Conspirare in 1994 when it was called the New Texas Festival. I got involved because Craig had been the organist and choir director at my church, All Saint’s Episcopal. Also, two fellow parishioners were involved, JoLynn Free, a board member, and Tara Holley, volunteer coordinator. I’ve personally been singing in school, church, and nonprofessional choirs since my high school days, so I’ve always loved choral music. This was my first exposure to a professional choir, and I jumped at the chance to volunteer. In the beginning there was only a summer festival, and then the Christmas concerts were added. Now I’ve seen them grow into a full season of concerts plus a children’s choir. What started out as a little experiment has become one of the cultural treasures of our city with sold out houses and now a Grammy Award-winning recording.
I’ve loved all the years I’ve spent with Conspirare and all the wonderful staff I’ve worked with, especially my volunteer coordinators Eric, Tara, Kathy, Gwen, Nicki, and Kathy. Craig and his singers have truly enriched Austin’s cultural scene, and I’m so thankful for the privilege of contributing in some small way.
Carol Walker grew up in Austin, married a preacher, bore four children, and the family headed overseas with the United Methodist Church to offer their services in teaching and worship.
Carol and the family headed back to Texas in the ’80’s so that she could work on her advanced degree. She completed her Ph.D., drove a truck to Nicaragua with the Veterans Peace Convoy, and participated in a number of other ventures. Also she taught at UT and St. Edward’s University as a Peace with Justice educator. In 1989 she sailed to the People’s Republic of China to teach advanced teaching methodology to Chinese high school teachers.
In 2001, she commuted around the states leading workshops and worship lifting up the need for trained Peace with Justice leaders. After retiring and settling down in Austin, Carol has enjoyed 20+ years of volunteering as a Conspirare Ambassador, or other help she can offer, such as visiting hospital patients. She’s active in the Democratic political process, registering new voters, and working the polls during election days. She and Robert Harlan (Conspirare’s Technical Director/Stage Manager) get a laugh out of the memory of driving her pick-up truck over to Bass Hall to borrow chairs in the late ’90’s. That was somewhat out of the ordinary!
Carol says, “all in all it has been a wonderful life, with a few snarls along the way!”
Craig Hella Johnson and his extraordinary musical gifts have long been a fascination of mine. Having had the opportunity to sing under his direction in the New Texas Festival choir and in the All Saints Episcopal Church choir not long after his arrival in Austin, I witnessed his amazing creativity and warmth working with people. I followed his work with the Victoria Bach Festival and the development and growth of Conspirare which includes the attraction of wonderfully trained and gifted singers. From the collage style of the Christmas concerts to the innovative repertory of the programming, Conspirare’s musical offerings are inspiring and transformative.
When my good friend and neighbor informed me of her association with Conspirare as both a singer and a volunteer, I saw an opportunity to be part of the support organization as a volunteer. From the Christmas concert in 2007, I have rarely missed an opportunity to serve and to enjoy the beauty and remarkable music of Conspirare. It is a joy to work with others who serve as leaders of the organization and with fellow members of the volunteer team.
Vivian and Tim Ferchill
Conspirare has been such an inspiration for us. We both love to listen to choral music as well as other styles of music. As a Round Rock ISD music teacher, I had heard of Conspirare; but I got “hooked” when my accountant husband, Tim, surprised me one night by asking me to get dressed up. He then drove us into Austin to an undisclosed location. We arrived at Riverbend Baptist Church and walked into the small chapel. I was still quite perplexed until I saw the program. A Conspirare Concert! Wow! It was beautiful, so finely crafted and really spoke to the heart! We bought a CD at the end of the concert and have been listening ever since.
A couple of years later, we were at a benefit for The Care Communities for which Tim volunteers. In the crowd we met Nicki Turman. When we learned she was the Conspirare House Manager, we teased, “Don’t you need some more ushers?” She said, “Actually, yes we do!” And so began our role as Ambassadors for Conspirare. Everything they do is exquisitely planned and expertly executed with beauty and a heartfelt soul. Craig Hella Johnson and all those who work with him are so incredibly talented. We are proud to be serving such a quality fine arts organization. Our first 2 years volunteering have been wonderful and we plan to continue supporting Conspirare with all our heart.