Constellation Chor is a vocal performance collective founded and directed by Marisa Michelson. Its intention at inception, and still to this day, was to create a space for humans to sing virtuosically together while also prioritizing deep embodied experience and movement. Since 2016, Constellation Chor has been in residence at Judson Memorial Church in NYC, meeting weekly.
We are singers, composers, and dancers. We are committed to embodied music-making, to practicing together over a long period of time, and to the liberation of the singing Being (that is: all of us, and all of you). We have two branches: our improvisational branch (based on a set of principles called Core Sounding), and our written-composition-based branch, in which we learn and perform works by various composers (including originals from within the Chor). We’ve improvised and performed compositions in a variety of spaces including Lincoln Center, the Kitchen, Harvard ArtLab, Spectrum, Pioneer Works, and National Sawdust; we’ve also performed as far afield as Iceland and Greece.
Our practice fuels everything we do. We invite our rawest impulses to channel through us, and aesthetically translate those impulses into voice or movement. To begin, we listen deeply to our bodies, while also tuning into the external sounds we hear or movements we see. Inevitably, stories arise in our minds about what we see and hear. We don’t repress these stories, we acknowledge them, but we also don’t lean in deeper: we let them go, again, and then again and again. This is our practice of non-attachment to narrative.
We also cultivate vulnerable emotional transparency. We try to get in touch with the emotions that arise within us from moment to moment (based on sounds we hear, shapes we see, stories that arise, etc.), and allow these emotions to move through us. Emotions seem to have a natural cycle, like waves. We don’t avoid emotions: we let them flow, and we watch them go. But in doing so, we are not trying to be neutral or detached. We want to show up, to be seen, and to see. By practicing together week after week, we necessarily impact each other’s ways of perceiving. Over time, we move ever-closer together—not because we perceive the same thing, but because we more deeply understand how we each perceive. In the creative work and serious play of the Chor, we honor our sacred individuality, as well as our shared bond of collective consciousness. The experience of spontaneously joining together with others as a result of honoring one’s individual truth: this is bliss.
Radiant Lyre is the opening song in Marisa Michelson’s music-theatre piece, Sappho Fragments (Part I of her Desire | Divinity Project, which explores the interpenetration of the sacred and the sensual). Accompanied by a medieval lyre, this piece was written to be performed by Constellation Chor, and premiered at Judson Memorial Church in 2018. The Chor later performed these compositions in Greece, Sappho’s own birthplace. Sappho Fragments dramatically brings to life Sappho’s lyrical poetry about longing and eros, as explored through Anne Carson’s translation.
Composer/Singer: Marisa Michelson
Developed with and Sung by Constellation Chor, specifically Sara Serpa, Jen Anaya, Tamrin Goldberg, Raphael Sacks, Shawn Shafner, Chad Goodridge, Luisa Muhr, Kalli Siamidou, Marina Pires, Heath Saunders
Grin & Bear It
In quarantine, at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, Constellation Chor met online every week. It was nothing like being in person; still, we would play and explore. We were inspired to see how it would feel to improvise together, even without being in the same room. From wherever we were, we opened ourselves to wait and see where inspiration would beckon us, and we would go there. In this piece, we recorded one person at a time, each new singer adding on to the voices of those who came before. The piece was sung by members Heath Saunders, Nikko Benson, Shawn Shafner, and Sarah Beth Pfeifer. Heath transcribed it after the fact.
Composed by Constellation Chor, sung by Heath, Marisa, Sarah Beth, Shawn, Nikko
Transcribed by Heath
Composer | Singer Marisa Michelson creates interdisciplinary music-theatre, choral work, and musicals, and is the Founding Director of the psychedelic singing collective Constellation Chor* | an immersion in voice, movement, and spirit. She also teaches singing in New York City, Hudson, New York, and online.