Vocal Ink is a group at USM that consists of students that write and compose their own music. They explore a multitude of styles and genres of music, helping find their certain “niche” in their songwriting. The ensemble is occasional and is a part of the Osher School of Music. Vocal Ink is student driven and generally student led, popping up whenever students want to experiment with new music that they have been writing. However, they have an Ensemble Facilitator, Michele Kaschub. Although the members of the ensemble are already accomplished performers, almost all of them were new to the role of composer and songwriter. The pamphlet to their most recent performance I attended read, “Most began their composing process in September and the ink is still damp on many of the works that will be shared tonight.”
The atmosphere of the performance area in Corthell Hall was quiet and polite. Even while the tech crew moved stuff around between songs, it remained silent the entire time. The audience was responsive and the entire concert had a very folksy and slower feeling to it.
The first performance was done by Rachel Goldstein, who wrote a series of three short songs based on poems. The songs were titled “The Fruit Suite,” and were about three different fruits: lemons, wild strawberries, and oranges. The songs were sung with a ukulele, only adding to Goldstein’s talent as a singer and songwriter. These songs were a good kick off to the event, being short and cheerful. This was one of the few performances that only had a single person singing, which is also another reason I think it was a well fit opener.
The second song was performed by Mary Hyde, titled “Dance with Me.” Hyde was labeled as a special guest and this was the only performance she participated in. She notes that the song was written based off of the Netflix hit show “Bridgerton,” and how nervous she imagines she would be during one of the formal dances of Bridgerton. Hyde’s song was accompanied by a piano, played by Goldstein. Her song was sung in a sweet soprano and her facial expressions shared the story of how she was feeling in the song, allowing the audience to experience her emotions.
The third song was the first song to be performed by the entire group, with the writer Josh Hyssong conducting as they sang. The song is titled “Wonder,” and was collaboratively written with his younger brother, Jay Hyssong. Hyssong’s purpose with this song was to capture the feelings and thoughts of an individual who struggles with anxiety. “This person lives in their thoughts of fear and doubt, but slowly realizes that they can live their life without fear of being judged,” says Hyssong. The song was performed in acapella, beginning slowly. It contained beautiful harmony and had the tune of an older slow song. As the conductor, Hyssong did a good job at keeping the performers on cue. The end of the song had more of an upbeat chorus, which was a pleasant outcome for the piece.
The next performance was “Queen of the Meadow,” written by Jack Dodd. The entire ensemble performed this song, including Dodd. He expresses that this song was inspired by the poem “Sandra’s Flowers,” which is reminiscent of a folk song’s lyrics. The entire song had a very folky feeling to it, especially compared to the rest of the songs. The group blended well together and the harmony fit well with the piece. All around, this song was well written and executed in very good fashion.
Following Dodd’s song was “Serenity,” written by Michael Overko. He explains that the motivation of this song was, “found in the feeling of losing oneself to nature and the feeling of freedom that such an experience can bring.” Overko conducted the song as the other seven ensemble members sang. He used the choral voices to attain a “sonic ambiance” that evoked the sensations that one can experience in the forest. The piece had a very zen and calming feeling to it. Overko did a good job at conducting the ensemble and they never waivered while singing.
The eighth song performed was called “Oh, Moon,” written by Daniel Laverriere. Laverriere was inspired by a poem and went with the idea of going through life despite the promise of death for the song. “My setting of this poem is framed from a climate change perspective; how do we find beauty when the world around us is burning to ashes?” says Laverriere. He conducted the ensemble during the performance and kept them on cue. The voices of the singers were clear and the harmony was strong. The song sounded like it was written in dissonance, but it was beautiful and made the song that much stronger.
The next song to be sung was “The Silver Lining,” written by Ryan Geary. Geary wrote the tune to this song in his sophomore year of high school, but did not know what to do with it. The tune did not have a purpose until the fall of 2019, when he lost his grandmother, Patricia Gallagher, to cancer. He found a poem on an Irish headstone that read, “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” Geary found a new purpose for the melody and began to write this song. He played the piano as the ensemble sang in harmony. The entire song was touching and you could tell how much passion and love that Geary poured into the song through the lyrics.
The last performance of the night was “November,” also written by Geary. Geary expresses that he had begun this song but never finished until he joined the ensemble of Vocal Ink. “This piece serves as a platform through which I incorporate my love for choral singing and pop music,” says Geary. He told the audience that the song was about convincing someone to love you. He stood in front of a microphone holding an acoustic guitar, the rest of the ensemble behind him. This song had more of an upbeat feel to it as he sang, the group behind him providing background music. The song picked up pace as it went on and the ensemble behind him began to sing a different language. At the end, you could tell how invested the entire ensemble was in this song, especially Geary. It was well written and was a joyful song to listen to.
The Vocal Ink concert was very entertaining. This group of songwriters and composers have a bright future and should continue to do what they are doing. I hope that the ensemble will continue to hold concerts in the upcoming years, maybe even more frequently. I would recommend attending a Vocal Ink showcase and listening to the young talent that attends USM. The experience is an enjoyable one and the music and performances are a must see.