Eya: Ensemble for Medieval Music is a joyous, pure thrill
You won’t find a more lovely and illuminating way to celebrate the season than an evening with Eya: Ensemble for Medieval Music. The three-woman group will fill downtown’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Dec. 13 with their clear, pure voices and exquisite harmonies.
Eya’s founder, Allison Mondel, describes growing up in a Jewish household and “having ancient chants embedded in my DNA.” As she continued to study music, she came across the ethereal, cosmic compositions of the 12th-century Benedictine abbess, Hildegard von Bingen. “I knew I needed to know more about this,” she says, describing how an influential mentor “teased out my attention to the medieval repertoire.”
She became, in fact, a notation and performance specialist of the chants of Hildegard von Bingen, and sang the abbess’s music at President Obama’s second Inaugural Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral.
Eventually, she realized that she wanted to create an ensemble that focused on medieval music, and Eya, which is a “joyous exclamation” in Latin, was born. They have gone on to universal critical acclaim, called by the Washington Post: “Remarkable…gorgeous…with precise ensemble, a strong sense of presence, and ringing vowels that reverberated to the farthest reaches of the cathedral.”
Mondel, a soprano, is joined in Eya by soprano Crossley Hawn and mezzo-soprano Kristen Dubenion-Smith.
Mondel chooses Eya’s performance pieces in several ways. “I may hear a piece recorded by other artists—or I find a text,” she says, explaining how one piece evolved from a text by the poet John Donne.
Yet, though Eya’s music comes from the 12th-15th centuries, the 21st century has definitely discovered it, Mondel says. “We can see when our music shows up on Spotify or Pandora,” she says. “[It means there are] people out there creatively listening.”
“Natus est Rex” (“A King is Born”), the program Eya will present at St. Paul’s is “exuberant music,” says Mondel. Much of it is included in the category of “Marian music,” which celebrates the Virgin Mary. Eya’s site describes “Natus est Rex” as a “sublime musical journey exploring the mystery, wonder and joy of the nativity…a wealth of gorgeous repertoire from England, Italy, France and Spain.”
Listening to this type of music in the soaring confines of St. Paul’s is a spiritual experience, she says. “You hear the sonorities, the vocal purity, the blend of voices. It touches people,” Mondel says, “and brings them to a place where they can touch beauty. That is different for each individual listening.”
The audience is an integral part of each performance as well, she notes, remarking on the “energy exchange” that takes place between performers and audience members.
This particular year, Mondel says, there’s even more need for a time to “hit the brakes,” and experience a program that offers a “deeply peaceful and connected experience for the season.”
“Come and listen,” she says, “and be restored.”
Eya: Ensemble for Medieval Music “Natus est Rex”
7:30 p.m., Tuesday, December 13
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
305 W. 7th Street (downtown)
$20 general, $15 seniors, $10 students
(423) 266-8195, stpaulschatt.org