We are three women, two poets and one singer, who have been creating, performing, recording and publishing original poetry and song in the Philadelphia area and beyond since 1991. Our work is a lively and inventive blend of the spoken and sung word. We honor each woman's strong solo voice and revel in the many ways we can combine our voices into new and surprising forms. With no instruments but voice and gesture, our performances and recordings are journeys of the soul dedicated to building peace within and without. With intricate patterns of words and music, we draw on personal memory, the cycles of nature, and the current social and political climate to create an experience that both heals and celebrates. Our work is deeply and implicitly feminist. We offer strong and healing female voices in the service of creating a kind, just, and joyous culture.
In addition to poems and songs for a single voice, the group often arranges poems for multiple voices providing echoes and accents for each other. The result is polyphony, but with each voice distinct. Philadelphia writer Scott Tucker describes their work "an unusual and inventive blend of spoken and sung words. These voices have unforced strength and clarity, and there is both heart and mind in each one." Painter Sara Steele offers this description of their sound: "Like a good line drawing their work is simple, intricate, clear. The voices of these women are full and generous--very nourishing." And singer-songwriter Ysaye M. Barnwell says simply of their new CD, "a lovely experience."
Founder Susan Windle describes the ensembles recording this way: "The tone is sometimes deeply contemplative, even mournful, at other times playful and whimsical. Like the four seasons we celebrate, You Know My Name evokes a wide range of human experience. Like good jazz, it is best listened to with full attention, again and then again."
A Little History of Our Group
In the spring of 1991 poet Susan Windle, with a growing hunger for artistic collaboration and a new-found love of ensemble work, invited three friends and sister artists-poet Ellen Ford Mason, singers Annie Geheb, and Barbara Solarz- to form a performing group. Within the first two meetings in Susan's living room, our group found a name, taken from the title of one of Susan's poems, and created out first poem-song together, a piece that served also as a kind of mission statement:
We come to sing
of the many voices in one
and the one voice
running through us.
from We Come To Sing Unimagined Possibilities, 1994
That first piece had all the elements that we were to grow into and expand in future work: original poetry, with music intertwined in and through the words, the play of two poetic voices. the play of the spoken and the sung word, the love of nature and the passion for human relationship.
We began our process of weaving poetry and song together publicly in the spring of 1992 in a performance at Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin, Delaware. In the early days, each performance was a patchwork quilt of Ellen's and Susan's poetry and songs selected by Annie and Barbara-all arranged thematically and in relationship to the season of the year as well as the particular audience for which we were performing. We performed in a wide variety of venues and audiences-for women's groups and arts group, peace groups, in bookstores, libraries, conferences, festivals, and schools. As we grew together through those years, Barbara began to create more original music, as she had done for We Come To Sing. And we began to play more and more freely with combining our voices. In 1996, however, Barbara, experiencing a need to sing with more voices, decided to move on. The three of us mourned the loss of her bright soprano voice and her musical brilliance and creativity, but losing Barbara as a group member, helped us to clarify our vision as a new and smaller group. Now that the balance had shifted and we were two poets and one very expressive singer, (instead of two poets and two singers), we became less concerned with keeping the balance between poetry and song. We focused more on expressing the poetry clearly and elegantly with song as well as the spoken voice. Though not giving up her role as consummate song stylist-she still continues to cover the work of other artists she admires-Annie began to write more original music through which to deliver the words of the poetry.
Over the years, we have performed an average of six times a year-work and family commitments generally keep us close to home. In addition to the more public conferences, churches, and coffeehouses, we have enjoyed the intimacy of many living room concerts. Our venues are sometimes unusual ones for poetry, and we are committed to bringing the good medicine of poetry into the lives of people who may not be looking for it. One such gig was for an enlisted mens' wives' club at the Dover Airforce Base in Delaware. Some of the women in the group had seen us at the Delaware Women's Conference and wanted to bring us to entertain their service organization during their annual dinner. As we drove through row upon row of stark military barracks and searched for the dining room where we were to perform, we wondered out loud, What are we, four women deeply committed to peace, doing here in the belly of the beast? As it turned out, performing that evening was a wholeheartedly positive experience. Here, in an environment very different from the ones were used to, we were reaching for the deepest possible connections between people. That evening Ellen and I tried a new form that we had been experimenting with: pairing poems and speaking them in response to each other, creating a third piece which is different every time we perform it. Through the delighted faces of the soldiers who had come with their wives, we gained confidence in this new form-we could see that we were leaning into a kind of spoken jazz with these "poem conversations". The challenge of reaching for this audience pulled us to a new level of freedom and spontaneity in performance. We were reminded of our original and abiding intention: to show how deeply and securely human beings are connected. However diverse and unique we are as individuals and cultures, in the words of Ysaye Barnwell, one of Annie's favorite artists to cover, "We Are One."
Our first recording, Unimagined Possibilities, was released in 1994. You Know My Name, our CD, was released in 2000. In 2002 poets Ellen Ford Mason and Susan Windle published Already Near You: Poetry in Concert, through xlibris.com. The book is a collection of their most widely performed poems, arranged thematically, their two poetic voices in on-going conversation with each other.