A Solstice Gathering

The brilliant, sparkling and beautiful new CD with fiddle, bagpipes, harp, viola da gamba, recorder & bodhran, the incredible tenor, James Oxley, & NPR’s Neal Conan . . . so very Ensemble Galilei.

Ensemble Galilei and Friends 

Isaac Alderson, Uillean pipes & flute
Hanneke Cassel, fiddle
Neal Conan, narrator 
Ginger Hildebrand, guitar and fiddle 
Ryan McKasson, fiddle 
Kathryn Montoya, recorders & baroque oboe 
Jackie Moran, bodhran & baritone 
Sue Richards, Celtic harp 
Carolyn Surrick, viola da gamba 

with special guests: 

Jesse Langen, guitar 
Adaiha MacAdam-Somer, viola da gamba 
James Oxley, tenor


December would have been our 30th Anniversary Winter Solstice/Christmas Concert in Annapolis. Indeed, we have done these concerts all over the country, from Jacksonville to Berkeley, Denver to New York, Chicago to Charlottesville. And let’s not forget Pinedale, Wyoming – perhaps the place we have visited the most at Christmas time. 

But this was a special year. We were going to assemble a prodigious assortment of current and former members of Ensemble Galilei. It was going to be amazing. 

Then there was February, followed by March. We thought about postponing the celebration. In the end, we realized that we what we wanted more than anything else was to record a CD for our friends from all over the country. 

Could we get together to record? Could we be safe? Could people travel? We needed a big, open, beautiful space, and the Church of the Nativity and Holy Comforter in Baltimore said, “Yes!” 

Jackie couldn’t leave Chicago and Kathryn couldn’t go there (travel restrictions) so we decided we would have three days of recording in Baltimore and one in Chicago. Where would we record in Chicago? Martyrs of course. The venue best beloved by many, agreed to open its doors at 8:00am on a Saturday morning. We were set. 

But if Sue couldn’t travel to Chicago who would accompany Isaac and Jackie? Jesse Langen on guitar was the instant answer from Jackie and Isaac. And Jesse said, “Yes!” 

James Oxley was going to join us from the UK, but then things got bad there and leaving the country was out of the question. Incredibly, in December of 2017, we spent a day at Sono Luminus recording four tracks with that year’s crew: James, Kathryn, Hanneke Cassel, Adaiha MacAdam-Somer, and of course Sue and me. That recording session was waiting for a reason to exist – and now it lives here, on this CD.

Neal Conan has been part of the heart and soul of Ensemble Galilei since forever. He’s in Montana and Hawaii these days – too far to join us, but yesterday I found a recording from a Winter Solstice concert in 2013 at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, with poetry by Jim Harrison and Suzy Michnevich. It brought tears. 

We recorded in a pristine studio in Virginia, a parish hall in Baltimore, and in a club on a busy street in Chicago. Sometimes you can hear the cars, motorcycles, and even children laughing.  We were not looking for perfect. Our producer, the patient and brilliant Dan Merceruio, understood. 

We’ve recorded CDs under ideal circumstances. We’ve created incredible beauty. We have come close to having exactly what we wanted out of a recording project (thirty years is a lot of time to chase perfection.) But what we really wanted this year was to be together, making music. 

None of our regular fiddlers could be with us. Some logistical hurdles cannot be overcome. But Ginger Hildebrand, our dear and immuno-compromised fellow musician signed on, bringing her guitar and her violin. We could do this. We could be safe and make music. 

Brian Doser, our tech director, came down from Boston to be our engineer. Madisen Dempsey, our tour manager, flew in from Chicago to keep us on track, and well fed. Our unbelievably supportive executive producer, Lindsey Nelson gave us his thumbs up, cheered us on, and made whole project possible. We went to work. 

Listening remotely, Dan did what he does so very well – he helped us shape good ideas for arrangements into extraordinary music. He asked us for one more take, waiting for that moment when intention meets inspired performance. He gave us the space and time to create (and live in) the joy of playing as a true ensemble. We were not looking for perfect, but what we found was so much better. We found, and played, to the heart of this bittersweet year. And we did it together. 

Carolyn Surrick, November 14, 2020