On Sept. 18, 10 professional musicians — including five Yale alumni — representing a diverse array of ethnic and racial backgrounds performed their debut concert as the Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble.

The concert took place in the Buckley Recital Hall at Amherst College. The next day, the ensemble traveled to New Haven for a concert and workshop with the New Haven Morse Chorale, a performance-intensive choir for New Haven public school students.

Arianne Abela MUS ’10, director of the Choral Program at Amherst College and former Yale Glee Club and Yale Alumni Chorus assistant conductor, founded the Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble. The ensemble’s members have African American, Lebanese, Filipino and biracial roots. According to the ensemble’s website, they aim to “encourage and inspire a more integrated and inclusive classical music scene.”

“Each member of Kaleidoscope is a consummate artist in their own right, moving seamlessly between the complementary modes of solo and ensemble singing in their individual work,” said Jeffrey Douma, who is the director of the Yale Glee Club.

Douma worked with four of the ensemble’s members —  Abela, Noah Horn MUS ’10 ’12 ’13, Dashon Burton MUS ’11 and Sherezade Panthaki MUS ’01 — during their time at Yale.

The Yale alumni in the ensemble are Panthaki, Michele Kennedy ’01, Horn, Burton and Abela. The members of the group have collaborated extensively in the past.

“[Panthaki] and I were talking about how, in musical experiences, it often seemed like we were the only people of color,” said Abela. “When we were growing up, we had wonderful role models but never [saw] people of color doing classical music. It never felt like something we could strive for because we never had representation readily available to us.”

In the workshop with Morse Chorale, each of the ensemble’s members shared their stories and discussed why they believe an ensemble like Kaleidoscope is important.

“[The kids] were so excited to see people that looked like them,” Abela said.

Abela described a moment after she conducted a performance when a young Filipino girl approached her and told her that she had never seen a Filipino woman conduct before.

Emery Kerekes ’21, one of the Yale Glee Club’s student conductors and a cellist in the Yale Symphony Orchestra, attended the workshop.

“Their musicianship was fantastic, but their storytelling was just as good, if not better — all with the same passion and animation,” Kerekes said.

The Kaleidoscope Ensemble then discussed the importance of diversity in classical music with the members of
Morse Chorale.

“I wanted to start Kaleidoscope as a place with top quality music but also to be able to talk about these issues without being afraid of them,” said Abela. “Having a diverse ensemble will show younger generations that they belong in the classical music scene.”

Kaleidoscope’s repertoire, a combination of early and new music, spanned five centuries. The program was selected to showcase the wide range of styles in the members’ repertoire, including music by Bach, Monteverdi, Caroline Shaw, Reena Esmail, Gesualdo and Kaleidoscope member Jonathan Woody.

According to Kennedy, because Kaleidoscope’s members specialize in early music performance, the music they sing balances a “contemporary aesthetic and contemporary lens” with the early music tradition. She said that the group’s balance between early and new music fosters dialogue about the lack of diversity in the early music world and contemporary music’s ability “to open up the door to more representation in a way that early music can’t.”

Burton and Abela emphasized their desire to include repertoire inside and outside of the traditional canon.

“The diversity of vocal music can speak to the diversity of our appearance — we love singing the canon just as much as we love finding works that haven’t been represented as much in the canon,” Burton said.

Although all members are still pursuing an individual musical career, the ensemble plans to come together for more events like the one in New Haven beginning in summer 2020.

 

Phoebe Liu | phoebe.liu@yale.edu