Midlife Dissonance

I am taking a break at the arranging party, letting the pixels dry on the digital scores. This is part of the process: get everything down before going returning and placing everything in an order that tells the musical story. It is essential for a clear eye and a fresh look.

I am surrounded by others who are diligently working on their own scores. The group has arrived at a point where everyone wants to invest their time contributing to our repertoire, this keeps our sets eclectic and interesting. The silence is broken up by questions about voicing and the software (most are using Musescore while I work with Finale). This is an activity I’ve been longing to return to since spending 3 days with 5 other arrangers in San Francisco about 13 years ago. It has taken some time to get Root7 to make this a part of our activities, a little over ten years since the group formed.

Finding people in Vermont who have the same passion for all-vocal music has been a challenge. Most singers want to front a band or hide their voice in a choir. Phish and the Von Trapp family aside, the Green Mountain State is not a place that draws people who want to make a living in music. We have full time jobs and more, living with a mantra of “Moonlight in Vermont or starve,” making it hard for busy people to dedicate their free time to a hobby. I feel lucky to have found a group of people who are committed and passionate enough to make singing and participating in an a cappella group a priority.

The mid-life point is coming up, so these past few years I’ve been thinking a lot about what the second half should look like. This has included reaching back and rediscovering the activities I have enjoyed the most, and find ways to do them more often. To do more of something requires doing less of other things.

25 years ago I was handed a photocopied sheet of contact information for college acappella groups and asked to come up with a tour schedule for the UVM TopCats Spring Break Tour. This was my introduction to CASA, The Contemporary A Cappella Society, a non-profit devoted to building the a cappella community. At this point in time it was a yearly list of groups who were looking to sing at other colleges, or who wanted groups to visit their campus. Most groups knew a handful of other groups in their geographic area, this list expanded the networks and allowed me to construct a tour that went down the east coast to Duke, southwest to Tulane, around the gulf for a few days in Fort Lauderdale, then up to the University of Virginia before returning home to Vermont.

CASA continued to expand the list, including professional groups who were looking to expand their own networks. The list was included in the CAN, changing from the Collegiate A Cappella Newsletter to the Contemporary A Cappella Newsletter, a somewhat quarterly publication that included news and adds. I became a member before graduating, thinking that the benefits would support some a cappella adventures I had planned. This led me to RMAC, a newsgroup devoted to the art. The online exchanges were my community, people outside my local geography who cared about the art form. I became friends with people I had never met face to face, people I still consider friends today.

At the turn of the century CASA was looking to redesign their website, and I offered to lend what skill I had to the project. As the stock market crashed other people on the project returned to work, until I was the last one. The new site launched in 2001, and I remember thinking 1,200+ pages was a lot (Middlebury has over half a million in its public web presence). Shortly after the launch I was invited to join the board of directors, and during my first meeting I was asked to be president.

That lasted one year. CASA had been built by inviting anyone who was doing something interesting with a cappella to join, if they were doing it well they were asked to be a board member. The group of directors was a sounding board for each other, offering help where we could , but mostly offering advice. I cherish the experience, being able to have conversations with some of the most creative and intelligent people. Unfortunately I had to leave after a year, my time was devoted to my family and transitioning from banking to a career n technology.

A few years later I was invited back to the board. Again I felt surrounded by smart and talented people that challenged me. CASA was moving towards an organization that was taking the collage of programs and making them work together. Many of those people have since started their own successful organizations and projects, and I often wonder if they understood what kind of history they were making while they were building it.

It has been ten years since I returned, and this January I attended my last CASA board meeting. It is something I had planned on doing for a while, there are opportunities for me on the horizon that I need to make space for. The current board is a continuation of the ability to attract incredible people, not the least is Shane Ardell who has already made incredible contributions to the events and technology programs.

It feels odd to take a step back from something that has been a part of my life for so long, something that has contributed to my personal growth and success. I am experiencing this day with Root7, surrounded by music creation, in some part due to my time with CASA. There is some comfort in knowing that I am leaving at a time where there are still good people in the leadership positions.

I plan on maintaining my membership and attending events. Root7 attended BOSS last year, we plan to do so again this year. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be performing some of the music we are crafting at this moment.

Leave a Comment