The Vocal Art Ensemble (VAE) is an a capella choir founded in February 2008. Directed by Tracia Barbieri, the group ranges from 18-24 auditioned singers and performs in Davis, Sacramento, Dixon, Woodland, and the surrounding areas.
The singing group presents themed concerts each May and December, aiming to "[share] exquisite music through artful musicianship." Targeting both the discerning musician and the casual music lover, performances feature a capella choral pieces and intimate instrumentals by accomplished performers from the area.
VAE's repertoire frequently falls into one of three categories: choral motets and madrigals from the Renaissance (Tallis, Byrd, Sheppard, etc.), contemporary choral works (Whitacre, Lauridsen, Forrest, etc.), and folk music from other cultures (African, Swedish, Russian, etc.). However, the chorus has also been known to present pieces from the classical performance repertoire as well.
The ensemble rehearses out of the home (and garage) of the director, with the goal of "[bringing] together experienced musicians pursuing artistic expression through finesse of the human voice." From their website, "potential new members of the Vocal Art Ensemble must be strong musicians, as our repertoire is a capella and the focus of this ensemble is blend, balance, and musicianship."
In September 2010 the group expanded its performance area to include a self-funded performance tour of Ireland.
Performances are on a donation-basis only. VAE has also sung at special events such as church services, weddings, art gallery receptions, holiday parties and retirement homes. VAE relies exclusively on these donations at performances or payment at gigs to fund its programs, and does not charge singer dues or require fund-raising efforts or sponsorship from corporations or local service groups.
The choral ensemble's debut concerts, entitled New Renaissance, were held in May 2008 in Davis and Woodland. With 15 singers, the chorus presented Renaissance motets and modern choral works. The concerts also included a classical guitar ensemble led by Matthew Grasso. Their first year together concluded with a December concert series entitled O Nata Lux, which included Christmas pieces centering around the coming of light into darkness; the concerts included performances by the Dolanc String Quartet.
The group's second year included two multi-cultural concert sets. In May 2009 were three performances entitled Tally Ho — Music of the British Isles. Aiming to "tour the United Kingdom and taste of its rich musical flavours," the performances featured celtic instrumentals from guitarist Ray Frank of Mudlark and fiddler / octave mandolinist Bob Wren, and modern English classical guitar by Matthew Grasso. The December 2009 concert set, entitled Voyages Musicaux — Carols from Distant Lands, "[explored] the human experience of faith, anticipation, and the celebration of new life through the music of more than twenty nations". It again featured guitarist Ray Frank of Mudlark and fiddler / octave mandolinist Bob Wren with more world instrumentals. The final performance at the U.U. Church of Davis was enthusiastically received by a standing-room only crowd.
VAE is currently in its third year, presenting some novel and unique approaches to choral performance programming. In May 2010 they presented Great Beyond — Grief, Comfort, Hope, which interpreted Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief through music "with tremulous motets, spiteful madrigals, and ominous modern pieces eventually leading to songs of peace, clarity, and beauty wondrous beyond words." Praised by Yolo Hospice, which has offered the community comfort, support, and guidance for 30 years, Great Beyond honored "both the struggle of letting go and the beautiful possibilities awaiting us on the other side of acceptance."
In anticipation of the group's performance tour of Ireland that September, VAE was the featured performer at the Village Homes Performers Circle that July, and in August presented a one-night concert entitled VAE Visits Ireland, which previewed their tour repertoire in Davis before embarking on their tour less than two weeks later.
In December 2010 the group presented Christmas Origins - Choral Art Through the Centuries. VAE "[traced] medieval Christmas texts to their roots, presenting a path of musical stepping stones through the ages, honoring a cherished history of holiday song." The concert presented various settings of texts such as "Ave Maria", "Bogoroditsye Devo" and "Es Ist Ein Ros’ Entsprungen" as they were interpreted through the following ages by musicians such as Bruckner, Lauridsen, Rachmaninoff, and Praetorius. The choir performed three concerts (one to a standing-room-only crowd) earning them praise for their "level of artistry and [the]complexity in the harmonies" as well as their ability to perform the entire concert from memory!
In May 2011, the Vocal Art Ensemble presented Cloudburst - Songs of Nature at venues in Davis, Sacramento and Dixon. This concert "painted a picture of the natural world with playful madrigals, stunning modern works, and evocative pieces that span the world’s cultures. We glimpsed birdsong at breaking dawn, whimsical frog and firefly, shimmering ocean, thundering rainstorm and quiet, earthly rest. Featuring delicate instrumentals and contemplative poetry, Cloudburst explored the wonders across our beautiful Earth." The grand finale, Eric Whitacre's 'Cloudburst,' featured the Juuliebells handbell choir of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, who joined the singers in recreating the sounds of a thunderstorm.
VAE's first international tour was of Ireland and took place from September 2-11, 2010. It included performances at Kylemore Abbey in Kylemore, St. Mary's Church in Killarney, St. Canice Cathedral in Kilkenny, and St. Patricks Cathedral in Dublin. The group also participated in a Catholic mass in Charleville, and joint performance with two Irish choirs at St. Peter's church in Bandon.
The performances were greeted with great appreciation, both for their musical calibre and for their help in fund raising efforts. St. Peter's church performance, for instance, raised euro 1125 to aid in the restoration of the church organ, and according to an e-mail correspondence from a representative at the local Kilbrogan house in Cork, it was "so rare that we get a choir of such calibre here in our small town."
The group's final performance in Dublin was attended by the arranger of one of the pieces on the program, notably Dr. David Mooney, whose arrangement of the Irish Folk Song Dulaman was performed in Gaelic by the group throughout the tour. Mooney reported to the group in an e-mail correspondence that it was "an excellently chosen programme and delivered with great musicianship and style. Your group makes a really beautiful sound. I really enjoyed the whole performance."
The Vocal Art Ensemble currently has two CD recordings available for sale at Watermelon Music and through the ensemble's website. CD proceeds help fund the group's performance-related expenses. Crafted from their live performances, the two CDs include Tally Ho — Music from the British Isles and Ireland and Voyages Musicaux — Carols from Distant Lands.
A video recording of this Voyages Musicaux concert was submitted to The American Prize, a nation-wide competition of performance groups which provides "professional adjudication and regional, national and international recognition for the best recorded performances of music by ensembles and individuals each year in the United States." On April 16, 2010, The Vocal Art Ensemble was selected as a semi-finalist for community / professional choruses.
The Vocal Art Ensemble presents SOLSTICE as winter’s turning point — a time to embrace both dark and light through song and timeless ritual.
The rich darkness of medieval masses and modern tone clusters is enlivened by interludes of balletic dance by Ecokinesis, crowned by Barber’s luminous Agnus Dei.
Soak in the changing light with a pirouette of exquisitely intertwined voice and movement.
- Friday, December 9, 2011 at 7:30pm at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (2620 Capitol Ave., Sacramento)
- Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 7:30pm at Davis United Methodist Church (620 Anderson Rd, Davis)
- Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 4:00pm at the Brunelle Performance Hall (Davis High School, 315 W. 14 St., Davis)
Suggested donation is $6-20.
- Bill Andrews
- R. Douglas Barbieri
- Tracia Barbieri
- Cheryl Covert
- Chris Dolanc
- Christina Dolanc
- George Haver
- Chris Healow
- Lori Leong
- Jeanine McElwain
- Steve McWilliams
- Cliff Ohmart
- Jeri Ohmart
- Molly Petrik
- Erin Reddy
- Elisabeth Reeves
- Laura Sandage
- Liese Schadt
- David Showers
- Karl van Bronkhorst
- Rob Woodman