On the one hand, you have a singer from a large (10 kids) musical Cape Cod family. On the other hand, you have another family-sized (at least 12) group of singers, who have just recently made their name locally.
Both—singer Kate McGarry, and the Skylark Vocal Ensemble—have been nominated for Grammy Awards this year. Their Cape Cod connections are strong, but different. McGarry grew up in Hyannis, part of a large, performance-minded family. She now lives in North Carolina, and tours constantly, but says she and her family, “still get together a couple times a year on the Cape.”
Skylark’s artistic director Matthew Guard lives near Atlanta, and formed the ensemble in 2012. Performing in Chatham, and in front of its enthusiastic core audience in Falmouth, Skylark imaginatively mixes early music—sacred and secular—along with new work and Guard’s own arrangements. The group performs in other Greater Boston locations as well, and draws many of its singers from the talented pool of area vocalists.
This is the first nomination for Skylark—in two categories: Best Chorale Performance, and Best Immersive Audio Album. For McGarry, this is her second nomination (her first was in 2008). This recording, “The Subject Tonight Is Love,” is a trio set with her husband, guitarist Keith Ganz, and pianist Gary Versace. It’s nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
“We saw from the last one, that it really helped in raising our profile,” McGarry says of the nomination. “It helps us share the music with the people who are interested in it. I’ve never had a lot of the industry machinery in my career—management, publicity, that sort of thing—and something like this gets the word out.”
The recording of “The Subject Tonight Is Love” was a grass-roots effort, a PledgeMusic campaign.“It was fan-funded, and a lot of support came from Cape Cod,” McGarry says. “That was really heartening. So many record labels have gone defunct, and artists need benefactors to act as executive producers to help get the music made.”
Skylark Ensemble’s two nominations are in diverse categories: one, for Best Choral Recording, speaks for itself. Their nomination for Best Immersive Audio Album is more of a technical nod to the team at the group’s label, Sono Luminus.
“Most people at home will never experience what immersive audio really is,” says Matthew Guard, Skylark’s artistic director. “The set-up for the recording”—which was done in Chestnut Hill’s Church of the Redeemer—“matches microphones for each of the speakers in surround sound.”
So if you have a system that places speakers all around, above, and below you, you will get to hear what Guard heard when he was conducting the session. Placing recording equipment not only around the singers but above them as well, Guard arranged the Skylark singers so that the prominent parts were closer to the mikes. He often had to kneel in the center of the group in order to conduct.
“The recording basically recreates my own experience, conducting in the middle of the group,” he says, “the sound and the nomination are a tribute to the Sono Luminus team.”
The Immersive Audio category may be esoteric, but Best Choral Recording hardly is. The list of past winners is impressive, as are the nominees this year. For Guard, inclusion in that list is almost good enough.
“The recognition, and the affirmation, that’s good,” he says, “and just being nominated is 90 percent of that. Our attendance in December on the Cape showed the effects, after the nomination came out. Our Falmouth concert was jammed. In Chatham, where we’ve struggled sometimes to get 60 or 70 people, we had 130. We were totally packed in our Newburyport concert too.”
Which goes to show that while the recording industry has deep business problems, recognition in the field still goes a long way toward building success.
“I just spent some time with a presenter in New York,” Guard says, “and basically booked us there for next season. The next CD will be easier to sell. I don’t think we’ll change our business model—we are interested in some touring, not full-time, and recording—but if we do want to go to New York or DC or London, the credential will be helpful.
“But honestly the biggest thing is for the people who already know and appreciate what we do,” he says, “and how it affects our home audience.”
The Grammy winners will be announced on Feb. 10. For some—like Kate McGarry, and for Skylark Vocal Ensemble—it feels like they’ve already won.