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 have a secret confession: I am not a singer. Whew! I feel better already.
I get asked that question a lot since I started volunteering with Conspirare two years ago, but no, I am not a singer AND (thankfully) it’s certainly not a requirement to volunteering with Conspirare. However, after being in band and orchestra for years, I can appreciate musical talent and respect those who choose it as a profession.
For each rehearsal and every concert, there’s an infinite amount of hard work that goes on behind the scenes to make things seem effortless. There’s obviously the talent from the singers and Craig, but think about the ushers opening doors, taking tickets, and passing out programs. Look at those folks placing the chairs and adjusting Craig’s stand just so and taping down any wires. Look at the trusty page-turner, turning pages for the organist/harpsichordist. Volunteers make it all possible, and it’s an honor to be recognized for doing what I love – giving back to such an inspirational Austin organization for all the joy they’ve given us – even if I can’t sing.
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.
Conspirare has been a big part of my life since I first had the pleasure of singing with the Symphonic Choir two years ago for the “It Gets Better” project. Shortly after, I auditioned for Craig and was accepted into the Conspirare family as a tenor for the Symphonic Choir. One year ago I decided to ambassador for a concert and just absolutely LOVED it – seeing the singers, chatting with Craig, talking with the patrons, and being of service – all these are things that I deeply enjoy.
I was born in Arkansas, and at the age of four my parents decided to serve on the mission field, resulting in a majority of my adolescent years being spent in Guyana, South America (1994-2004). While on the field, our church’s music was mostly a cappella until I decided to try to play for a service. I fell in love. Music had the ability to move people (myself included). It was then and there I decided that music and I would forever share a very special bond.
I’m currently a student at Austin Community College, aspiring for my Associates of Arts with an emphasis in vocal music. My dream is to continue with music as my main focus and to one day obtain a Doctorate of Musical Arts in conducting – more specifically, choral conducting.
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, raised four children, and lived in several countries abroad as an English teacher/missionary. She also worked for the United Methodist Church as a Peace with Justice educator. When retirement finally came along, Carol moved back to Austin and embarked on her next career – volunteerism! For the last 14 years she has been active as an usher, has enjoyed singing in the larger Conspirare concert choir, works the polls on election days, does hospital visiting and gardening for her church, and crews regularly for a hot-air balloon. Not a bad life!
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.