“Performing for the Queen,” with Dr. Ryan Ellis
Amanda Stubbert: You are listening to a special series of SPU Voices Podcast featuring our music faculty.
Kyle Brown: Amanda, why are we doing special podcast episodes?
Amanda: Because of Behold! A Sacred Sounds of Christmas Virtual Experience, coming to your home December 12th. It’s a fully produced Christmas special featuring some of our most talented professional alumni musicians.
Kyle: How can I sign up for that amazing event, Amanda?
Amanda: At spu.edu/behold.
Kyle: And Amanda, who can I thank for putting on this event?
Amanda: Let’s thank all of our sponsors, especially U.S. Bank, our presenting sponsor.
Kyle: Amanda, why is it called “Behold!“?
Amanda: I am so glad you asked. If you read the Nativity story in the Bible, you will see the word “behold” quite a few times. Usually it’s when an angel of the Lord comes and talks to people and says, “Stop what you’re doing. What I’m about to tell you is going to change your life forever.” So we asked that same question to our musicians. Tell us some of your behold moments, where God stopped you in your tracks and changed the course of history. And boy, did we get some great answers.
Kyle: I’m so excited to have beheld this event. Now behold, the SPU Voices Podcast.
Amanda: Welcome to the SPU Voices Podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. This episode, we sat down with Dr. Ryan Ellis. He serves as Seattle Pacific University’s director of choirs, in addition to the music director at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Bellevue, and artistic director of ChoralSounds Northwest of Northwest Associated Arts. Prior to starting a doctorate at UW, Dr. Ellis was director of the Bermuda Chamber Choir and co-founder of the Bermuda Festival Orchestra. He led an active performance season with those two ensembles that included several national television spots. He’s an active member of the American Choral Directors Association and the National Association of Music Educators. Ryan, thanks so much for joining us today.
Dr. Ryan Ellis: Amanda, thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.
Amanda: I love asking musicians this question, because usually there is a lot behind this question. Where did your love of music come from?
Dr. Ellis: I don’t really know.
Amanda: I hear that a lot, too.
Dr. Ellis: OK, good, I’m not alone. I really don’t know. It’s like it’s been there as far back as I can remember. And the story that I was told, and then I share when people ask, well, I guess not all the time, but I have thought about it recently here in recent years, is that I was told probably about the time, I can’t remember, 7, 8, or so, there was this little statuette on my bookshelf in my room. And it was a little choir boy holding the hymnal and these rounded “ooh” lips. And I was like, “Well, why is this here?” And I can’t really remember why I asked, but I did, and was told that it was a gift from my great aunt, my grandmother on my father’s side sister’s, that always called me “little choir boy” as a baby, and I think it was because I shaped my lips. I don’t think I made a sound, but I just shaped these “ooh” lips. And I’ve noticed my son did the same thing when he was just a baby toddler.
“I can’t remember any specific moment or reason why, but [music has] just always been a part of me.”
And so OK, well, I guess what I had been reflecting on recently about that story is kind of thinking about calling and calling from God: Is it possible that this was something in me before I even knew? And so my love of music, it wasn’t an obvious thing, like my parents are not musicians. My mom sings in the choir. She loves music. Her side of the family, certainly there is some musical traits on that side, not so much on my dad’s side, but my dad’s father did play the home organ. In the ’60s and ’70s when they made these a little bit smaller and you can put them in your home, he got one, was not a keyboard player, but figured it out according to how the keys would light up and was just teaching himself and in semi-retirement. And I would sit on his lap and go down on the floor and hit the pedal notes. And so it could have been that, but I feel like it’s just always been something I’ve been drawn to. And I can’t remember any specific moment or reason why, but it’s just always been a part of me.
Amanda: That is interesting with the statue and the name, and how in many cultures, a naming is a very sacred thing. And I think in our American modern culture, it’s like, that name sounded good. And that’s about it, but it is interesting how many cultures see that naming as a very sacred thing, like you said, and if does that actually steer where you decide to end up.
So choral music and sacred music, so you’re growing up, you have some connection to music through your family, but not a huge one. How did you end up in that world of choral sacred music?
Dr. Ellis: Yeah, I think it was the church I grew up in, St. James Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I had a chance to sing in the children’s choir there and had a very inspirational teacher. I don’t have a lot of memories of the Christmas pageant programs, but I know I was a part of them, and I know they shaped me. And the way I feel that is when I go back into that space, it’s not like a specific memory, but it’s a feeling that I get, a beautiful wood structure, a warm space, Tiffany-like stained glass. So it’s very colorful, but subdued in a way. It has again, a warm feeling. It just kind of hugs you a little bit. And I think when that sensation added to the oral sound of the voices and the organ, it just would elicit this sense of calm and peace and home and a place of purpose and all those things.
So I continued to sing in choir through high school, and really enjoyed that experience, sang in a men’s choir my freshman year and then made it into the mixed ensemble. So I was at an all-boys Catholic high school, and then we’d go across the street or down the block to the all-girls Catholic high school and have the mixed ensemble. So maybe it was a little bit of both, my love of music and also just getting out and being able to be in a co-ed environment, too.
Amanda: That warm feeling of home, and also the girls.
Dr. Ellis: That too, right? No, I just had a great director, Steve Galliano, just a wonderful director. And I lived for that class. As a freshman, the men’s choir was the first hour of the day. And so I never recommend that for a choir, but somehow, he would get us awake and singing. And then it was the last class of the day. And it was like each day, Monday through Friday, looking forward to walking down the street and joining those voices and singing that music for Mr. Galliano. Mr. G, we called him.
And so I think it wasn’t very clear to me that it was going to be a career path, and sacred music wasn’t necessarily the primary focus. It certainly was choral music. I also played in a high school band. And we actually started as a blues band, and then we did some other kind of Southern rock covers and things like that. And I found myself wanting to be sort of the director of it, kind of was like, “All right, you’re going to play this, you’re going to do that. And these are our songs that we’re going to do.” And we did the high school Battle of the Bands and just had a great time making music in that kind of garage band atmosphere with friends. And I think that’s kind of what made me realize that I enjoyed teaching it, is because I was bossing my friends around, I suppose. They would say it that way, but wanting to have a vision of something and try to articulate it and pull it off was kind of the fun thing.
“We did the high school Battle of the Bands and just had a great time making music in that kind of garage band atmosphere with friends. And I think that’s kind of what made me realize that I enjoyed teaching it, is because I was bossing my friends around, I suppose.”
Amanda: Which I think there’s a lot of us who did art in high school and early on, that you sort of graduate from that and realize, “I can’t leave this behind. This is too much of who I am. This has to be a part of the rest of my life.” So let’s talk about Bermuda. How did you end up there?
Dr. Ellis: Well, it was actually my lovely wife had the job opportunity offer to move there. We were living in Massachusetts at the time. We did graduate degrees in Boston and then in Western Mass, and we loved it. We left Louisiana, we’re both from Louisiana, and we were ready to have new experiences. And so being in the snow for the first time and just enjoying a bit of the mountains, I guess it’s not like the mountains we have here on the Pacific Northwest. But for us, being from Louisiana, those were mountains. We did a little skiing and had a great time studying and learning a lot, of course, and making new networks of friends. And we thought we’d never leave. It just felt that way.
And well, then the invitation came to move to a paradise island. And so she’s a deaf educator. She does early intervention for babies and toddlers with hearing impairments. And they were looking to establish a program and they had joined a partnership, she was at Smith College at the time, and Clarke School for the Deaf, which is affiliated there. And they had this connection with the Bermudian government. And they said, “Look, we’re looking for somebody. Who could you send out?” And here was Tara as a recent graduate. And so she came to me and said, “Well, what do you think about moving to Bermuda?” And it’s like, “Well, yeah, let’s just do it for six months, maybe a year.” And it turned into six years.
And they were concerned, actually. “Oh, you’re coming with your spouse?” It’s a small island. There’s only 60,000 Bermudian residents, really. And then you’d have the expatriates who were there. There’s a big financial re-insurance industry and all that. So there’s a number of British and Canadian and European and a handful of Americans working there. And so they thought, “Oh, we thought you’d come alone, Tara, but you’re bringing your spouse? Well, oh gosh, what are we going to do with him? What does he do for a living?” And she was like, “Oh, well, he’s a church musician.” And, “Oh, come on, come now.” And the reason-
Amanda: That we can do. That we can handle.
Dr. Ellis: Yeah, they were so excited. And the reason we learned is that there was a shortage of church musicians, and there are a ton of churches. The Anglican church had been there for a long time, obviously. But there were a lot of Roman Catholic churches, the African Methodist Episcopal church was big, the AME church, Adventist church. And so I started working in a Catholic church for a couple of years, had a great time there, and then moved up to the Anglican cathedral. And so I was raised a practicing Episcopalian. So it was a great move. I enjoyed the… You know, the Roman Catholic and the Episcopal churches, especially in that more traditional style, aren’t very different, and their liturgies are very similar. And being at a Catholic high school, I already knew and had worked in that space. So it was all a great experience.
But to then be at the cathedral was marvelous, a bigger organ, a beautiful stone space in the downtown area of Bermuda known as Hamilton, very historic. And so when the cruise ships would come in, you’d have the tourists always coming through. And it just was fun to be in there practicing and people coming in to either listen or sometimes play there. Organists would be on their trip and just get to meet people and hear others play, and be in that space was quite an experience. So I was there for about, I guess, three and a half years before we ended up coming back to the States.
Amanda: What an experience every Sunday. It’s as if you’re performing at Carnegie Hall, right? You’re in a space like that, in this public, but private, but historic space. That must’ve been incredible.
Dr. Ellis: It really was. And the only downside with that space was that it was made of Bermuda limestone, which was very porous. So when you think, and when you said Carnegie Hall, you start to think of great acoustics. It looked like this place should have good acoustics, but when you would play a big organ chord or sing out your voice, it actually was very dry and very dead. And that’s because the porous stone was just sucking in the sound and not bouncing it around the space. So it was almost like a little cognitive dissonance, because you would expect that looking at it, it was huge and gorgeous, beautiful stained glass. But no, it didn’t have quite the Carnegie Hall sound. But you’re absolutely right. It felt like you were a part of history just being in that space and being able to worship in there in that way, in the kind of high church way, with the incense and the sun shining through the stained glass. And as that incense smoke hits it, you see just the colors radiating through the space.
“It felt like you were a part of history just being in that space and being able to worship in there in that way, in the kind of high church way, with the incense and the sun shining through the stained glass. And as that incense smoke hits it, you see just the colors radiating through the space.”
And we had no air conditioning either. So it got very hot in the summer. Now Bermuda, if you don’t know, is off the coast of the Carolinas. So it’s not technically in the Caribbean. It’s 700 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras. So it’s by itself out in the Atlantic. So it’s a little bit more moderate climate. It did get chillier in the winter months. And there was a rainy season. So it wasn’t like being at the beach year round. But certainly in the summer when it was hot, we would open up all these doors. So you would also see the palm fronds blowing in the wind outside the open door, and it just was paradise. Tara and I would often say while we were there, it was like winning the lottery in a way. And we just look back on that time and feel so blessed to have had that experience. Our son Keegan was born there in 2009. And it’s just a wonderful blessing that we were able to have that opportunity.
Amanda: Well, before we leave your time in Bermuda, I believe you had a special guest once or twice while you were performing there.
Dr. Ellis: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. The special guest that you speak of was Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, her husband. It was in 2009, as well. And this was the quadricentennial celebration of Bermuda. So I guess Juan de Bermudez shipwrecked in 1505 or something like that. I think that’s what The Tempest is about. And then it was the English sailors like 100 years later, so like 1605 or something like that, they shipwrecked. And I think it was George Somers, and they’re writing back to the king, a little pit stop here, we’re going to make it to the New World, don’t worry. But then they write another letter and say, “It’s really nice here. Maybe we should just stay here.” Of course he says, “No, build the ships and get on to the New World.” And, well, I think it was George Somers said, “No, I think I’m going to stay well, we’ll send these other folks along.” And they establish this colony on this little tiny island. And that was 1609 when they established it.
So 400 years later, I’m there just by sheer coincidence. And they were celebrating the quadricentennial, and of course they wanted to have a Matins service with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip present. And she was about, I don’t know, 30, 40 feet from me in the front pew. And I was up at the organ and directing a choir. Well, we put a special choir together. And it might’ve been about 70 or 80 voices, and brought in some trumpets. It was just glorious. Everything you could imagine if the Queen of England is present, including the background checks. I think they did a lot of vetting and research on everybody who was present in the cathedral that day. But yeah, that’s, I guess, one of my claims to fame there, right?
Amanda: I guess I’ll be watching the next season of The Crown just to see if you’re represented at some point.
Dr. Ellis: Wouldn’t that be funny?
Amanda: All right. So you’re back in the States and you’ve decided to teach. Let’s dive into that, because I think it might be more difficult for people to understand. I think we all, whether you’ve ever taught school or not, you understand standing in front of a class teaching English or math, and I feel like it’s a very different scenario to lead a choir. So you have classes, but then you also have performing groups. And how does that all work together? What are your goals when you come in to direct a new group or you have a new group coming in to work with you?
Dr. Ellis: Yeah. I guess without getting too involved in the pedagogy, I could just say generally that in front of a choir, when a choir gets together for the first time, it really is … it’s kind of nerve-wracking, too, because you’re trying to build a rapport, and of course you want to put your best foot forward, but at the same time you want them to build a rapport within themselves. So how do you facilitate that is the question. And then you want them to have not only interpersonal rapport with one another, but with their own instruments as singers. And so the combination of all those things, I think, is kind of a good way to summarize the pedagogy in the approach. And then to offer a specific example of that tone would be … or breath and then tone. So initializing the breath support, and then how that creates the tone that you can create. And when you are thinking about what it is to resonate as your own instrument, then you start to hear how you resonate with the instruments around you. And then all of a sudden, it establishes this really good choral sound. And I think I offer that as, I guess, a distinction of what I think about.
And a lot of this comes from the mentorship and study that I did in a doctoral program, but to focus on that, instead of say, let’s get all the right words, or all the right notes even, or rhythms. But what does it just feel like to establish this breath that supports this sound or this tone, a resonance? And some of that comes from pipe organ playing, too, because it’s a big instrument. You can imagine those big pipes, they’re big and round. So as we think about that as singers, we start to have to get more physical. We have to sort of think, how do I support that? Or how am I trying to create that inside of my torso, for instance. Where are the ribs, and how’s my posture? Kind of typically we kind of just slouch a little bit. You know this. And then that that muscle just below, our chest plate there, that epigastrium, we just can’t quite engage the way we want it to. But when we pull the shoulders back and we stand tall and we feel round and big, then we start to create this resonating tube support, like a big pipe in a pipe organ. And so I want to let the singers feel connected to that, and everybody comes at it slightly differently, but it is a physical thing.
“When we pull the shoulders back and we stand tall and we feel round and big, then we start to create this resonating tube support, like a big pipe in a pipe organ.”
So you hear the term, “Oh, they’re doing a choral warmup.” Well yeah, we’re doing a lot of things. We might be warming up the vocal folds, but we’re also warming up these muscles that are in our torso, in between the ribs, and our abdominal muscles as well. And so I think if I start with planting that seed, then the choir knows that this is what we’re after. Eventually, right? They kind of get that that’s the way into this success as singing as a choir. And it’s not so much the things that we might’ve been concerned about, like those correct vowels and perfect pronunciation and perfect diction of consonants happening all at the same time, right? Which is kind of the traditional way, we must get this, we must blend. We say blend all the time, and this is a way to get to blend. All right. So I said I wasn’t going to talk pedagogy, but I guess I did talk too much pedagogy there. Sorry,
Amanda: But that’s all right. I think it is interesting, like so many of the arts, that it’s really a whole-self experience in a way that I think is more obvious than some of the other things you can study at say, a faith-based university, where you really are in every class using your physical body, your mental prowess, and you’re trying to tap into faith as well. You’re singing sacred texts. You’re trying to connect with the other singers and speak a truth beyond the words themselves. It just feels like it’s such a whole self-encounter in a way that you may have to work a lot harder to see that in say, a math class.
Dr. Ellis: Absolutely. Have you sung in a choir?
Amanda: Maybe once or twice.
Dr. Ellis: Yeah, absolutely. It’s that mind, body, spirit trifecta, isn’t it? And I talk a lot about … I try to play with those words, right? Inspiration, [foreign language 00:00:23:39], right? [foreign language 00:23:40] the spirit, the Holy Spirit. But we’re taking this breath and not only is it something that we do constantly, and we don’t think about it, but now we have to think about it. And if we think about it in a theological way, in the context of inviting in the Holy Spirit as we’re preparing ourselves to be this instrument, and you’re absolutely right, with sacred text, we want to be the instrument of the Word of God. Wow. And this becomes a sacred event, even on a typical Monday afternoon rehearsal. Now the students don’t always feel that way. I get it. But I certainly do. And I think they pick up on that. And that’s that kind of rapport piece, too, that you can’t say all this when you just show up in a class, you have to show it and do it and let it become a part of the culture, and that just takes time. But you hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly it.
Amanda: Well, and I think part of it, and I have personally encountered this in working with all of the music faculty including yourself over the last several years, that part of it is really modeling, stretching your own abilities, not just saying, “Oh, I’m a good soprano, so I’m going to sit here doing my soprano thing,” but stretching your own abilities to see where really are the edges? And the reason I bring that up specifically right now is because by the time this airs, we will have just released our Behold! A Sacred Sounds of Christmas Virtual Experience. And the finale of that show was arranged among other folks like yourself. And actually, the dream of what it would look like, the basic idea of it, came from you. So I want to talk about that. What’s that like when you’ve sort of made it, and you’re in the place where you know what you’re doing and you continue to do that, and then you stretch to try and take on a project no one’s ever seen before?
Dr. Ellis: Yeah. It’s scary. Well, and this is airing later, of course, but just yesterday, I had the chance to see the finishing touches come together on this. And this is a great place to be, so good timing to catch me in a very positive place with this creative endeavor. We spent a little under eight hours in a studio just with the engineer, myself and the engineer, working on the mixing, the final mix of it. And it’s amazing what they can do. Being a choir director, a lot of my output is the live choral concert. And we might put up a couple of microphones or at SPU, we’ll livestream those concerts and they can exist in that way, but it’s capturing the recording live in the moment. And sometimes, I’ve been a part of recording projects where you just go in and you do that same thing, put up a few mics and you get the best takes of several things. But this was a bigger project because of course we were mixing, not just choir, but the orchestra, the wind ensemble, the percussion ensemble, another smaller rhythm ensemble of our alums. So I’ll get into those details of how it’s put together.
“This was a bigger project because of course we were mixing, not just choir, but the orchestra, the wind ensemble, the percussion ensemble, another smaller rhythm ensemble of our alums.”
But yeah, you mentioned, it sort of was … Here’s the thing. We were stuck with, all right, we’re doing this as a video project. We want to have this signature piece that we have been able to pull together in these last few Sacred Sounds over these recent years. And it speaks to exactly what you mentioned too, of feeling like, all right, you got a niche, you know what to do, you direct choirs, but how do you push yourself? And what do the students need, and maybe what do I need, or what does God intend for me? And what is the culture looking for? And so we were looking for this. All aspects of our Sacred Sounds team was looking at it from this perspective. It’s like, is it just going to be a choral concert or kind of a traditional repertoire with choir and organ? Well, no, we’ve got to speak to some other styles. We need to embrace the diversity that our students represent and then the diversity of the music that we’re all listening to.
And so it’s been a great partnership and having these conversations with Stephen Newby over these past few years, and of course, Danny Helseth, and we’ve got Christopher on board now with the orchestra. So it’s always a collaborative event. But these discussions that I’ve been able to have with Stephen Newby in the more gospel tradition, and myself in a more traditional choral aspect, that bringing these two together, where do those meet? And it’s also kind of pushing us as directors out of our comfort zone a little bit, but it’s clearly pushing the students out of their comfort zone a little bit, because they might choose one or other of these slightly genre-specific choirs, because that’s what they enjoy and do. But we’re saying, “Hey, no, we’re all going to collaborate on this and have a piece that fuses these two styles together.”
And so we’ve really enjoyed that challenge and the feedback from our audiences. It seems like, “Oh, that’s always been a fun finale.” So we continued that idea and ended up this year saying, well, we have to bring that to this video at the end. And we knew that it was going to be through conversations. It’s going to be, O Holy Night, it fits the theme, it’s talking to us right now. Let’s go with that. And so we’re all frantically looking around, what’s the right arrangement for us? And it just didn’t exist. So, well, let’s make it ourselves, and let’s make it a group effort.
So yeah, I had kind of sketched out the skeleton and the idea of it. And I said, well, I’m not going to do it all myself. So another thing that we take into consideration here is that, what are the ensembles that we have? And what can we do? What are the instrumentations sometimes? Or what’s the potential to make them really shine? So I said, all right, well, we’re going to do this. And I did some orchestration to it.
And then I handed it over to Christopher Hanson, I said, “You arrange the strings according to these chord changes.” And then over to Danny Helseth, “And you arrange for the wind ensemble according to these chord changes, and we’ll put it together.” And in some ways, it’s great because you’re sharing the load, but especially in these remote times, how are we clear about who’s doing what and where, and what’s going to override somebody else’s idea? So it was kind of nutty, just sharing documents and seeing where and how it all came together. Went to Dr. Newby, of course, Stephen Newby, and said, “What can we do that is really speaking to the contemporary style?” And of course we start to bring in our alums in the story. They’ve been featured throughout this video. So we’re going to showcase each of them. And he’s like, “Hey, well, we’ve got Philip Jacobs as a great hip-hop artist. Let’s feature him, we’ll ask him to write a short moment of spoken word. We’ll kind of break out of the thing that we’ve created here and give him that moment.” And so when I had-
Amanda: When I first read the words, I think I literally teared up. What he wrote for that bridge is so beautiful.
Dr. Ellis: It’s amazing. Yeah, it’s incredible how that came together. And so I can [inaudible 00:31:42] start traditional. So it starts with the solo soprano voice, Katie Malik, and then it goes to something contemporary. It’s the duo with Natalie Schepman of Joseph, and everything she does is amazing, and Melyssa Stone, and they’ve collaborated many times. And their presentation outside of O Holy Night is just phenomenal in this program. And they did what, like a half of verse, their long verses, the long O Holy Night form here, and so they did the half part of it, but just knocked it out of the water.
And then it goes back over to more orchestra, very operatic style. And now it’s Jim Cornelison as the solo voice, and he hits this high, big belting note. And then as he comes out of that, we go into this Afro-Cuban rhythm, kind of taking that typical, slow ballad and giving it a lot of juice. And we asked the percussion ensemble to play traditional bembe rhythm out of the kind of Afro-Cuban style of a lot of hand percussion playing, different patterns over one another. And we reached out to Zahara Williams to do the lead voice in an R&B style. And so you just mix in all these things together. And Aaron Wittrock was her accompanist in this. And so he’s adding more kind of voicings to the piano part. And then of course we have the strings and the wind ensemble and the choir all come together. And they were all recorded separately. So just the madness of putting it all together, like here’s what you’re going to do and here’s the track to follow to make sure it happens. And so it was nerve-wracking, no doubt about it.
“It was nerve-wracking, no doubt about it.”
Amanda: So many different recordings, so many different days, different locations, even different sound engineers taking the recording. I just have to ask you, did you really know this Frankenstein monster was going to live? Or were you worried until the last minute?
Dr. Ellis: Oh, I think I must’ve blacked out the real panicky moments, because I knew it was going to work. How it was going to work, I didn’t know. And so I think that’s where the trust comes in, the trust in God to begin with, and to hand over a lot of those things that are out of our control over to God. But also the trust in the process and the colleagues and you all who are on the sidelines of this working very hard in the other aspects of this presentation, no doubt, but kind of on the sidelines of seeing what we were doing with this finale piece and saying, “You got it, you got it. What do you need?”
And so I think that team, I had complete trust in, I knew it would work, because of that aspect of it. And I got to say, I can’t imagine another music department across this country that is doing something similar. And I challenge anybody to prove me wrong, I guess, because I’m not going out and looking. But as most universities are, we’re so focused on our teaching, our scholarship, and service, and all these different areas, and to see a whole faculty, more or less, come together and put voice into the notes on the paper, lead their individual ensembles that come together in the end, I think that’s a really unique thing. And it says a lot about our department and our team and the support of the campus. And so, again, just blessed.
Amanda: I would absolutely, absolutely agree with that. I’ve heard again and again how all the arts departments here at SPU, this idea of working really as a team, more than as a competitive nature, that other schools in the arts, that from the day one when you show up, you’re in competition with your classmates, and even the faculty is in competition with each other. And I just feel like we produce such better work when we are in collaboration and we’re pushing each other for sure, but we’re not trying to take each other down in the process.
Dr. Ellis: Yes. Yeah.
Amanda: Yeah, for sure. All right, Dr. Ellis. Well, I will end today with the question we love to ask all of our guests, if you could have everyone in Seattle do one thing tomorrow that is going to make the world a better place, what would you have us do?
Dr. Ellis: Well, is it going to be too obvious if I say, listen to a piece of choral music? Go sing in a choir. No, you can’t go sing in a choir now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. So it’s a three-parter then. It’s listen to a capella choral music, maybe a whole album if you have the time. But certainly one, one that you know, maybe from your pastor. If you don’t know, just maybe search a capella music. One that has been on my heart recently is Edward Bairstow’s I Sat Beneath His Shadow. And chamber singers worked on it a little bit this quarter. And listen to the choral piece eyes closed, maybe headphones on, and enter into that sound. Prepare your heart for an empathetic place and think of somebody else, think of maybe somebody that you don’t necessarily agree with or get along with, put yourself in their shoes, enter into that empathy.
And then the third part might be to write them a note, or if it is somebody personal, maybe it’s somebody that you’re not connected to, but you just need to try to empathize with them for the good of your own heart and I think for the good of all of us around. But if there is somebody that you could then reach out to and drop a note of encouragement based on a deeper understanding of where they might be that is not on the surface level of our day-to-day interactions. And I think obviously I’m biased, but I think that listening to the humanity of voices right in your ear, and this is what we get from the choral experience that I try to highlight primarily for our singers and for the choirs that I work with, is that empathy is at the heart of it, and we’re working to create the sound together by paying attention to what our individual voice is doing among the other voices around us. So it’s already this exercise of empathy, but I think even just listening to it and with that focus in mind, it’s facilitating a deeper level. Is that too much to ask?
Amanda: No. It’s not. We all have a device in our homes that we can just ask to play us music. It’s not as if we have to go to the library and check something out these days. So I think-
Dr. Ellis: But that’s also the danger too, right? It’s so easy to turn it on and not pay attention to it. So my ask is, you close your eyes and it only has to be a few minutes, and allow that meditative exercise of thinking of the other in that moment.
Amanda: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for being with us today, Ryan. And I’m going to pray us out with a little blessing. May the Lord bless you and all you put your hand to, may the Lord be gracious to you and all who hear your story. May He bring unity to our community and peace to us all. Amen.
Thank you, Ryan.
Dr. Ellis: Amen. Thank you, Amanda.