I think good art happens at the edge
between comfortable and in a lot of pain, you know what I mean?
—Liz Phair, American singer, songwriter, and guitarist

Last year, we asked our audiences what you wanted out of this year's concerts. You said, "Keep up with the delicious variety!" and "We want more Dirty Stupid Music!" and "We love your commitment to showcasing local talent!" You said, "I was moved to tears by the beautiful music" and "I hope Resonance will keep bringing us these amazing concerts!" 

We heard you loud and clear, and with that in mind, it is now our pleasure to announce this EIGHTH season of shows to you.

The three shows we announce will form the core of a season rich with opportunities to dive deeply into "good art." As we continue to build bridges between art and community, between our past and our present, as we stay brave and share classical music and use contemporary ideas to provide a place for it in the 21st century.

We take pride in our deep commitment to showcasing music that transforms us, performers that transform us, and ultimately performances that indeed, serve to change and inspire all of us. We will always strive to create innovative programming of exceptional music. We hope you will join us.

I ask all of you to subscribe to our season.

Subscribe to Handel's Messiah, where you will see us performing with Portland Chamber Orchestra in December. This concert will feature twelve of Portland's most talented classical singers, singing the Christmas portion of Handel's Messiah. Three singers per voice part on this piece is not heard often, and the exposed, transparent sound our singers produce will knock your socks off!  In addition to this, we will also offer another 25-minute set of gorgeous a cappella music. This will be a special, unique holiday concert.

Subscribe to our 2nd round of Dirty Stupid Music -- a show we premiered in 2013 to a sold-out house and – several encores later – we knew we had to bring it back. So we do, and this time, we offer TWO shows. Not only have we cast singers who are able to dance on that fault line of classical music and cafe-style cabaret, but we have invited Portland Opera pianist David Saffert back to not only accompany the singers, but act as emcee for the show. If you have never seen his one-man show, let me tell you – he does THE most spot-on Liberace impersonation you will ever see. To entice you even more - all subscribers over 21 will get to enjoy a FREE Dirty, Stupid Cocktail at the show. And our show takes place at Curious Comedy Theater - THE COOLEST VENUE IN TOWN. (Can you tell I'm excited about this?)

Members of our Dirty Stupid Music 2017 Cast surround Liberace (David Saffert)!

Members of our Dirty Stupid Music 2017 Cast surround Liberace (David Saffert)!

Subscribe to our season closer on June 24th, ...only in falling,   This CD release event will showcase the work of Portland composer and my good friend, Renee Favand-See, who composed Only in Falling following the death of her infant son. The pain and ultimately the healing that we witness in her music is something powerful to experience, and I look forward to sharing it with all of you.

Composer Renee Favand–See

Composer Renee Favand–See

Your subscription to this season not only ensures you entry into every one of these great shows (with the best seats!) but it also shows your support of our vision, and you join a community of music-makers committed to celebrating the transformational power of good art.

Please join us.

Feel free to connect with me anytime; I would love to hear from you.

Best wishes,


What is this Totentanz anyway?

Resonance is hard at work preparing our "Dance of Death" concert, and we are incredibly excited about the double bill of versions of the Totentanz (pronounced TOE-ten-tahnts).

The amazing pianists Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack are joining us to perform the Franz Liszt Totentanz in its two-piano form. This is a virtuosic tour de force for these musicians in a piece described as having "diabolic intensity." (See this YouTube video to get a "sneak peek..." )

So, that's a Totentanz that is extroverted, intense, in your face. But our other Totentanz is one that makes you stop and reflect on your mortality. It hits you in your gut in a surprising way.

Our other Totentanz is by Hugo Distler, the early 20th-century German composer whose music sounds like a mixture of jazz chords, medieval writing, and Stravinsky. It is transcendently beautiful.

When we performed this work a few years ago, Brett Campbell wrote that it "may linger longest in my memory." I'm not sure I can adequately convey how much we love this work and how much the audience loves it, but I will try!

It has 14 short, tender movements that reflect on death and loss and the afterlife. Between those movements, there are dialogues, which we perform in English, between the figure of Death and various townspeople. Death invites everyone to join the dance. Some come willingly, some come in fear of judgment, and some (like the heartbreaking dialogue with the young child) just don't understand why they must join the dance. After each dialogue, there is a plaintive violin solo, played here by Third Angle's Ron Blessinger.

There is something magical that occurs within this piece. The singers (and I!) have a hard time not crying in parts of the music. (We do our best not to, as it's not a pretty sound... ) We suspect you will find a wayward tear on your cheek as well.

Distler Totentanz movement 14  The mural from the Lübeck Totentanz, with the original medieval dialogues that inspired Hugo Distler    

Distler Totentanz movement 14
The mural from the Lübeck Totentanz, with the original medieval dialogues that inspired Hugo Distler


On Awe, Loss, and Collaboration

Recently, the New York Times published an article discussing research on why humans experience awe.

Apparently, recent studies show that people who experience awe in their lives tend to act more generously toward others. Psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner wrote, “We found that awe helps bind us to others, motivating us to act in collaborative ways that enable strong groups and cohesive communities.” In multiple studies, people who reported experiencing awe in their lives, through the beauty of the natural world or through the arts, felt more connected to strangers and therefore gave generously and selflessly.

Prompted by this article, I have found myself thinking a great deal about the nature of awe and how it changes my life. Those of us who make music and attend concerts can point to magical moments we have experienced, where the music swept us into a transcendent space. As a teenager, I remember feeling euphoric joy in a high school choral performance (full disclosure: I was in a show choir. With sequins. And lots of hairspray.). In graduate school, I heard a performance of the Verdi Requiem by the Swedish Radio Choir and Orchestra that remains one of my top musical experiences as a listener, with exquisite pianissimos and thunderous no-holds-barred passion.

In the last couple of weeks, I find myself thinking about awe, gratitude, and generosity in a more personal way. We have been preparing four works with Resonance that fill me with awe, even in rehearsal. Poulenc’s Figure humaine is an incredible masterpiece for six-part double choir – twelve distinct parts in all – that cries out musically about war. Poulenc set powerful poems by Paul Éluard, composing in secret in occupied France and smuggling the work out to be premiered in England. Poulenc described it as an “act of faith to be performed without instrumental aid, by sole means of the human voice.” It is pretty awe-inspiring (an “act of faith” seems to me to create awe!) that the human voice can make such glorious, complex, profound music.

Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden is a plea for peace on earth. I described it in last night’s rehearsal as Schoenberg’s walking as close to the edge of late Romantic chromaticism as possible without actually jumping off the cliff into atonality. The music sounds like late, late, late Brahms, with yearning chords that mirror the composer’s longing for peace. I hear those soaring chords and feel awe and connectedness with the wondrous singers of Resonance.

The extraordinary tear-jerker on the concert is Lee Hoiby’s Last Letter Home, a setting of an actual letter written by an Iraqi war veteran to be given to his wife and children in the event that he did not make it home alive from the war, which, sadly, he did not. The letter is full of such tenderness and joy, with a final, painful, loving reminder, “don’t forget to smile.”

And I can’t begin to articulate the awe I feel bringing the finale to Vaughan Williams’s Dona nobis pacem to life. Its unbridled optimism shimmers, giving me goosebumps.


One of the people on this earth who has been most beloved to me was my uncle Danny. Dan Meltzer was a Harvard law professor, legal scholar, and public servant who served in the Obama administration as principal deputy counsel and who believed in leading a generous life. Growing up, I didn’t know those things – I just knew that my goofy uncle Danny took obvious enjoyment in nurturing his children, nieces, and nephews. He made us feel cherished and truly seen. He also had an incredible partnership with my aunt Ellen, and I loved seeing their delight in each other.

Danny loved music. He had a great ear and could play jazz standards in any key. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music; I remember riding around in the car with him when I was a graduate student in Boston a decade ago, and he knew the composer and opus number of obscure string quartets on the radio that I could only guess at. He was very supportive of my musical and academic career and always asked questions (the legal scholar coming to the fore) about rehearsal process, music history, Resonance, and Lewis & Clark.

Danny passed away on May 24 after a battle with cancer. He was only 63. I feel sad for all of us who loved him, most especially his wife Ellen and their sons, Josh and Jonathan. But again, I find myself thinking of awe.

Danny’s career is one that could be said to fill people with awe. But in the end, I think he would say that that isn’t the type of awe that matters. What matters is finding experiences, and relationships, that make awe a part of your life. Danny lived that kind of life. That delight he radiated when he was with my aunt Ellen, or his boys, or his baby granddaughter, or yes, discussing a complex legal issue, was the visible manifestation of his awe at his beautiful life. He found awe in musical experiences, too.

To return to the studies that so captured my imagination, Danny’s awe may have been part of the reason for his generosity. He was a generous friend to all, and certainly to this grateful niece.

So, amidst feelings of grief, I am experiencing gratitude for being able to make music and for knowing my loving, generous, awe-inspiring uncle. And I understand better the ways this awe transforms us and makes us want to be better, more generous people who collaborate lovingly with others.

Daniel J. Meltzer, 1951 - 2015    Kathy's awe-inspiring uncle

Daniel J. Meltzer, 1951 - 2015
Kathy's awe-inspiring uncle

This Will be Our Reply to Violence

One of my mentors once said that people who have seen war are often the gentlest, most peaceful people. Some are committed to leading lives that foster understanding, even while haunted by the horrors of war. Some seek to draw attention to tyranny and hypocrisy, to prevent the abuse of power and the oppression of innocents. I think of my father, a gentle Vietnam veteran who served as a Green Beret, who then devoted his career to international legal reform, working to ensure the rule of law in developing democracies. I was always moved by my dad's work for education and the rule of law, a commitment that seemed to have been both forged through his experiences in Vietnam and, to Dad, part of the same desire to help make the world a better place that caused him to go to West Point in the first place.

Our responses to war seem both universal and highly individual. My father is one example. Francis Poulenc is another. It's incredible that, amidst the chaos and cruelty of Nazi-occupied France during the second world war, Poulenc received the rebellious poems of Paul Eluard and set them to such exquisite music as Figure humaine. He was taking tremendous risk by writing this subversive work, but he responded to war as an artist can, with a thought-provoking, powerful work that transforms the audience.

The works on our upcoming War and Peace Concert this weekend seek to illuminate the deepest of human questions. Why do wars exist? How can we, as individuals, hold on to our humanity and our free will under a dictatorship? What is the personal and family cost of honored military service? Can there ever be peace on earth?

I am struck, as before, by Leonard Bernstein's inspiring quote, "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." Resonance may not be able to answer these human questions, but we can explore them through music. The music you will hear at these particular Resonance concerts will remind us all that we can hold on to ideas of freedom, family, and peace.

I really hope you will join us for one of these concerts. The show on Saturday, June 13, at 7:30 pm will be held in the wonderful acoustic of Lincoln Recital Hall at Portland State University. We will close with a 2 pm Sunday matinee at First Presbyterian Church as part of the Celebration Works Concert Series.

Be well,

Kathy's Dad, Daniel Fitzgibbon  (right).   Mr. Fitzgibbon attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, receiving a B.S. in Engineering in 1964. After graduation, he served over five years as an Army infantry officer, rising to the rank of Captain. He successfully completed the Army's Airborne and Ranger schools and was first in his class at its Special Forces qualification course. He served nearly three years in West Berlin, Germany, and then spent 19 months, including 10 months as an A Team leader, with the Fifth Special Forces Group (ABN) in Vietnam during 1968-69.

Kathy's Dad, Daniel Fitzgibbon (right).  
Mr. Fitzgibbon attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, receiving a B.S. in Engineering in 1964. After graduation, he served over five years as an Army infantry officer, rising to the rank of Captain. He successfully completed the Army's Airborne and Ranger schools and was first in his class at its Special Forces qualification course. He served nearly three years in West Berlin, Germany, and then spent 19 months, including 10 months as an A Team leader, with the Fifth Special Forces Group (ABN) in Vietnam during 1968-69.

What Does It Take To Be a "Resonance Singer"?

We are so lucky in Portland to have incredibly talented singers who are also some of the loveliest people around!

I have come to feel that we have a musical family here, with top-notch singers and instrumentalists who are not only technically able but who commit wholeheartedly to the musical process. They are adventurous and versatile, able to do early music through wild new music.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m able to choose specific singers for a project based on the vocal color and musical demands of the project. These singers come from a list of people who I have already collaborated with or have heard audition. While our roster may vary by concert, there are skills that make a “Resonance singer.”

These musicians are:

  • technically proficient, with flawless intonation, the ability to sing with and without vibrato, and dynamic range and control
  • emotionally expressive through their voices           
  • able to read and learn complex, challenging music

But there’s an ineffable quality of our most successful Resonance musicians, too – they are gutsy and excited about doing wildly varied music. They “geek out” on early music and Schoenberg and jazz. They like the challenge of singing with Resonance, with a group of people who are asked to come to their first rehearsal having mastered the music in advance so that we can spend our rehearsal time focusing on nuance.

And, most important, they have heart.


Let's Talk about Repertoire!


When we announced this blog on Facebook, several of our supporters said they would love to hear more about the behind-the-scenes process for Resonance Ensemble events. How do the creative juices get flowing? How do our concerts come together?

So, today, I’d like to talk about repertoire! Usually there is some kernel of an idea that comes first, that gets me really excited, and everything spins forth from that seed. Sometimes the idea is for a specific theme (“Back in the U.S.S.R.”), and then I brainstorm and research particular works that could fit that theme.

Or sometimes there is a particular vocal work that I have been dreaming of doing (Stravinsky’s Les Noces was like this). I reflect on what makes that work special (musically, emotionally, poetically) and consider what other works could be a good fit on a program. Here I like to think about what works would be interesting contrasts for the audience.  I want each concert to have a rewarding arc for the listeners, so the program order needs to be just right. And, practically speaking, if the main work on a concert is going to be extraordinarily challenging for the musicians and need a lot of rehearsal time, I pair it with works that can be rehearsed more quickly.

When I know the repertoire for the concert, I can start thinking about the palette of vocal color that would be ideal for that music. The beauty of Resonance Ensemble is that we have a roster of singers with different vocal colors, so that we can tailor the roster for any given performance to the exact demands of the concert. If we are doing “Dirty, Stupid Music,” we can choose singers who are dirty and stupid! (Just kidding…) But I’ll leave off the discussion of choosing singers until our NEXT blog post!


On Resonance Ensemble + Gratitude

In December 2009, I sat down with two musical friends and started to daydream about a kind of vocal ensemble we envisioned. We dreamed of working with Portland's finest singers and instrumentalists, creating an ensemble to perform innovative, thematic, multidisciplinary programs. We wanted the ensemble to perform everything from medieval chant to cutting-edge new music, with changes in color and style to match the repertoire.

After a few truly terrible name brainstorms (while I would never name a choir after myself, we joked that the Kathy FitzGibbon Chorale would hilariously be abbreviated KFC), we opted for Resonance Ensemble, because we wanted to explore music's resonance with other art forms and with our audience.

Now, in our fifth season, we have performed dozens of concerts, including in partnerships with other Portland arts organizations (Third Angle New Music, Portland Chamber Orchestra, the Portland Art Museum, and March Music Moderne) and with guest artists including the Oregon Poet Laureate and Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan Ensemble.

Recently, one of Resonance's long-time singers asked me to start a blog. She suggested that our audiences might enjoy hearing more about the process of creating Resonance's programs, having some "inside scoop" on some of the composers and artists in a more regular form rather than having to wait for the concert, and our program notes, to learn more!

So here it is, my first blog post. For this first trip to the blogosphere, I'd like to express my gratitude to all of you. I'm grateful for the support of our Portland community, especially our musicians and our Board of Directors. I'm grateful that we are able to make music ranging from the naughty (this fall's hilarious "Dirty, Stupid Music," or 2013's "The Big Oh!") to the deepest kinds of feelings that music can express ("War and Peace" coming up in June, for example). (Do you like how I was able to get a plug for our June concert into a discussion of gratitude? I'm grateful that you are bearing with me, nonetheless!)

And I'm grateful to our donors who make this all possible. Working with these musicians and connecting with our audiences are really dreams come true, and it is thanks to your support that we can continue to make this vision a reality. Thank you, and I look forward to connecting with you in the blog over the months to come.

(Photo: my son Will, mesmerized at his first choral rehearsal, November 2014)

(Photo: my son Will, mesmerized at his first choral rehearsal, November 2014)