For the last 22 years, Ensemble Galilei has performed an annual Christmas/Solstice show in Annapolis. This year, for the first time ever, the group will perform a second holiday show in Takoma Park.
“The people of Takoma Park are really interested in authenticity and things that come from the heart,” says ensemble member and viola da gamba player, Carolyn Surrick. “It’s a very soulful place and [ours] is soulful music.”
According to Sue Richards, a Rockville resident and member of the Ensemble Galilei since its inception in 1990, the ensemble “started out as an early music group and [they’ve] added more Irish and Scottish music ... “
“The sound is just something we’ve developed over the years,” says Richards. “This is who we’ve evolved into.”
Now, the Ensemble Galilei plays a combination of Scottish, Irish, Swedish and early music.
“We do different kinds of music,” says Surrick. “The group was founded on the principle: how we played is more important than what we played. That’s sort of how we ended up being a group who specialized in different kinds of music.”
Today’s Ensemble Galilei is comprised of six instrumentalists. Richards and Surrick are joined by Hanneke Cassel and Ryan McKasson on fiddle, Kathryn Montoya on recorder, whistle and oboe, and Jackie Moran on percussion.
“This is some of the most intense music making I’ve had in my life, with these people,” says Surrick. “The chemistry is really amazing between the musicians.”
Despite the close musical connection, Surrick and fellow ensemble members don’t see each other often. Ensemble Galilei members live all over the country and many of them also perform with other groups or on their own. In fact, Surrick says the group rehearsed for this Christmas concert back in April during a five-day tour in Southern California.
“We have so much long history with each other where we’re at a point where we don’t have to talk about it that much,” says Surrick.
This weekend’s show will feature a mixture of holiday music, music from the ensemble’s usual lineup and some original songs, many of which were written by Richards.
The group’s upcoming concert in Montgomery County also will provide the ensemble with the opportunity to do something they’ve grown passionate about over the years outreach with wounded warriors and veterans, an effort that began a little more than four years ago when Surrick, who lives in Annapolis, decided she wanted to volunteer her time.
Five years ago, after several phone calls to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center went unanswered, Surrick says she decided she “wouldn’t stop dialing the phone until someone said yes.”
Finally, someone did.
During her first visit to Walter Reed, Surrick went alone and played music for some of the soldiers recovering in the hospital. A conversation with one veteran who had lost his leg in an IED explosion convinced Surrick that she wanted to make her visits a weekly thing.
“It was just a few hours of my day and I was like, ‘OK, this is it, I’m coming here [every week],’” says Surrick.
Now, Surrick and Richards spend every Friday in the cafeteria at Walter Reed, playing for any soldiers well enough to come and hear them. On Friday, before their show in Takoma Park, all of the members of the Ensemble Galilei will make the short drive to Bethesda and perform a concert for injured soldiers at Walter Reed.
But the outreach efforts with the military extend well beyond the Maryland region. Now, no matter where they go to play, and Surrick says the group has hit every state in the U.S. with the exception of Alaska, New Mexico and the Dakotas, the ensemble visits any Veterans Affairs facility they can and performs.
“That’s part of our work,” says Surrick.
“The people really enjoy it and are relaxed by it,” adds Richards. “I think it’s the reaction of the people [that] we play for. They’re so moved by it.”