I had the pleasure of interviewing Markdavin Obenza, the artistic director for Seattle-based vocal ensemble, The Renaissance Singers. You can listen to a sample of their music from their new album titled, Christmas in England, and if you’re in the Seattle area, they’ll also be performing at the end of the week, so be sure to check them out! And if you can’t make it or aren’t currently in the Seattle area, be sure to support this vocal ensemble by purchasing their CD to be released November 27, 2010. -Charisma M. Schwarze
Q: Tell me about “The Renaissance Singers” and when it began?
A: The Renaissance Singers is a Seattle-based group of 8 and 12 singers that mostly performs music written in the Renaissance period. The group officially gave its first concert in April 2004, but has changed so much over the last 6 years. At that moment only four of the singers, Thomas Thompson, Orrin Doyle, Willimark Obenza and myself were in the original group that debut in 2004.
Q: What is your particular musical background and maybe some of the key players within the group that you’d like to talk about?
A: Thomas, Orrin, Willi and I have been singing since we were very young. We all grew up singing in the Northwest Boychoir when we were around 10 years old and have been singing since. I continued singing in the Compline Choir at St. Mark’s Cathedral under the direction of Peter Hallock while I was completing my Masters in Music Theory at the University of Washington. Everyone in the group is so important as there are so few of us. We try to select singers with specific strengths that complement who they might be singing with. For example, some singers are amazing musicians that can sightsing anything you put in front of them perfectly with impeccable tuning the first time. Then you have singers with just beautiful voices that fill the entire room with ease. We seem to get the best results when you pair these types of singers together.
Q: I know you have a Christmas CD coming out this month, can you tell us how long it took to record and what is special about the CD?
A: Our CD that we just recorded is to be released November 27, 2010. We decided to record a Christmas album because a lot of people seemed to like our 2009 Christmas program. It took three 3-hour sessions and about 20 hours of editing to finish the CD. One thing we were trying to capture in this CD, is the sound you would experience if you were to stand about 20 feet away from the group. You can hear every singer distinctly, which is different than most choral recordings that try to give you a sense of a large church space which results in a slightly more homogenous sound.
Q: You are currently based out of Seattle, do you travel and do shows as well? or have you been invited to big events because of your particular music?
A: We have mostly stuck to performing in the Seattle area, we self present several concerts throughout the year and often get hired in the area by local organizations. We are planning our first tour to New York in October 2011, but we are still in the very early stages of planning.
Q: Are you doing this full time and how do you get funding for your group?
A: I do not do this full time, I currently am the choir director at St. Clement of Rome Episcopal Church in Seattle as a half-time employee. I am the artistic director so I organize all events for the Renaissance Singers and lead rehearsals and concerts. Because we’re a nonprofit organization, about a third of our funding comes from donations and the rest from ticket sales. Although we receive donations, like most artistic nonprofit organizations, it is very difficult to predict revenue as donations are harder to get these days. Ticket sales revenue is just as hard to predict. It really depends on the how much press you get. It’s amazing how much power the press has in getting people to concerts. We had a great preview from the Seattle Times in 2009 and sold out 550 tickets in 2 days.
Q: Do you find family and friends’ support a key aspect in continuing what you love to do?
A: We are so lucky to have the support we get from family, fans and friends. Those people are really responsible for the ongoing success of the group. We have so many volunteers willing to usher, advertise and even help plan concerts – we love you guys!!
Q: How do you see yourselves in the next 5 years, or what are your goals?
A: We hope to tour more often. Ideally, we would want to get presented by an organization outside of Seattle. The presenting organization would pay for airfare, hotel and singers fees. However, they also need to make enough money back to recoup the expenses, which means presenting organizations will generally want to host more popular ensembles. We feel like we will get more exposure with this new album, so hopefully touring isn’t that far away!
Q: How do we find more information about your group and do you have other CD’s for purchase?
A: Our website, www.therenaissancesingers.com, has all you need to know about our group, concerts and recordings. We have another album for sale called Masterpieces of the Renaissance which was recorded in 2007. I don’t want to speak too soon, but there are plans to release another album in February 2011 of Renaissance music that has not yet been recorded. A great way to stay updated with what the Renaissance Singers are doing is by becoming a fan of “The Renaissance Singers” on Facebook!
Because I sing in the group, we do not have a formal conductor. This provides for very much an organic performance experience as everyone is even more dependent on each other to coordinate our musical expression.