Last Saturday, the Gund Concert Series brought Chicago women’s vocal ensemble La Caccina to campus to stage their concert “Gaia.” The group, which was formed in 2011 by three Kenyon graduates, performed a program of choral music which centered around the aural experience of the natural world and its interaction with womanhood.
Named “Gaia” after the mother of all life in Greek mythology, the concert explored earth-related themes with sections named after symbolic fixtures of nature, such as “The Light,” “The Water” and “The Animals.” Carling FitzSimmons ’11, the artistic director of La Caccina, said that the naming “is a cheeky nod to the stages of creation,” as the titles loosely follow the first seven days of creation as recorded in the Book of Genesis.
The concert featured songs of every variety and background, from pieces such as “Morning Star Lullaby,” a Wichata tribal song; Maryam Khoury’s “Koowu,” a meditation on ethnicity, identity and family; and Henry Mollicone’s “National Weather Forecast,” which included lyrics such as “heavy freezing rains will predominate over New England” and “California will be sunny and mild”. Despite the diversity of pieces, the section titles and broader themes organized and unified these distinct selections.
The subject matter of “Gaia” originated in a class FitzSimmons took at Kenyon. She cited Professor of English Janet McAdams’ ecofeminist English course as an inspiration for the thematic structure of the concert. In the class, FitzSimmons learned how the treatment and mistreatment of the earth, women and other marginalized people intertwine, leaving a lasting impression on both social and ecological structures. Of the compositions she curated for Gaia, she said that there was “no better way to highlight creative powers of women than to create landscapes of sound with our voices.”
While at Kenyon, FitzSimmons founded Colla Voce, Kenyon’s classical women’s choral ensemble. Colla Voce joined La Caccina from the stands to perform R. Murray Schafer’s unconventional piece “Miniwanka, or The Moments of Water.” During the piece, the members of Colla Voce were staggered throughout each aisle of the Rosse auditorium, creating a three-dimensional effect meant to simulate the sound of rain, a brook, wind and other natural noises not commonly used in choral music. Toward the end of the program, Colla Voce joined La Caccina once again, this time onstage, for “Woodsmoke and Oranges,” an ode to natural beauty and the feeling of home.
The final section of Gaia was entitled “Womankind,” a striking difference to the masculine overtones of the sixth stage of creation in the English Bible. The significance of the change was not lost on La Caccina, which, as an all-women group, seeks to highlight the capabilities of the treble voice.
La Caccina member Beena David elaborated on the value of a chorus of exclusively women’s voices. “Treble music has a unique timbre,” David said, suggesting that uniformity of treble music cannot be achieved in a group mixed with bass voices as well. She also explained the distinctive agility of the treble voice, observing that “the color palette” produced in a women’s ensemble offers a distinct sonic experience.
FitzSimmons noted that La Caccina is the only professional ensemble group of its kind in Chicago, meaning that her choices in repertoire leave a lasting impact on the city’s music scene. Fellow member Patty Kennedy highlighted the group’s identity as an all-women ensemble and the particular value of “women giving work to other women.” In a classical musical scene currently and historically dominated by men, individuals like FitzSimmons are especially important, as she provides a creative platform as well as economic opportunities for women through her work as artistic director.
La Caccina embodies both the past and future of choral music, representing the progressive interests of the changing world and the storied history of classical music. In “Gaia,” they exercised the traditional beauty and precision of choral music to comment on the critical intersections between nature and womanhood, culminating in an enjoyable and thought-provoking evening spent appreciating the capacities of the human voice.