On crisp, fall nights late in October performers of the Ensign Symphony & Chorus customarily make their way to Second Avenue, the artist’s entrance at Benaroya Hall. As we entered for our sixth season, Rejoice! The Lord is King, there was a combined anticipatory feeling as the founder and conductor of Seattle Ensign, Rob Archibald would pass his baton and podium to our new conductor, Steve Danielson.
After Ensign’s July concert God Bless America, we wrapped up a period of tremendous growth as an organization. Our conductor Rob Archibald’s departure brought a need to find a new conductor and the Ensign leadership team began a months-long conductor audition process. In September, just as the Ensign chorus rehearsals began the candidate field was narrowed to two very capable conductors, Debi Richards and Steve Danielson!
The Symphony, Chorus, and candidates all began rehearsals with some trepidation, due to many changes on the horizon for Ensign. Our delightful president, Debbie Wagner who made vast efforts on Ensign’s behalf, received a job transfer back to her home state of Minnesota. We will miss her spunky personality and the love she shared with us. Our Ensign Board Chair, Spencer Oliver, announced that Debi Richards would be moving to California. We are pleased that Steve Danielson had accepted the opportunity to become Ensign’s new conductor. The Board also announced the addition of two new board members to their team, Gary Smart and Bryon Madsen. Welcome! Finally, Anne Christiansen was elected by the Board to become the Interim President. Anne’s passion for all things Ensign and organizational skills will add much to the work we all embrace.
As the Benaroya Hall house doors opened on this foggy fall evening and our amazing patrons entered, the Symphony & Chorus took the stage with confidence knowing that they are well supported by wonderful leaders, volunteers and donors who also embrace the goal of providing uplifting and inspiring music to the Greater Puget Sound Area. The excitement was palpable as Debi and Steve joined in Rob’s tradition of high fiving every choir member before the chorus entered the stage, opening Season Six, Unspeakable Joy.
Rob Archibald, took a new place on the stage as the master of ceremonies. He welcomed our guests to Rejoice! The Lord is King and instead of taking his regular position on the podium he became an honored audience member who now has the privilege to watch his vision and inspiration for Ensign Symphony & Chorus and now Seattle Youth & Children’s Choirs grow and flourish. Who knows maybe one day the vision will expand even further and Seattle Ensign Youth Symphony will join us?
Debi took the Benaroya podium for the first time and we opened with a rousing rendition of “O Be Joyful in the Lord” by John Rutter. The symphony and choir combined to follow Debi’s conducting nuances throughout the first half and provided a musical feast. The audience expressed their gratitude for our efforts with loud applause. As ensemble members exited the stage for intermission, many came to Debi to congratulate her on a job well done and give her well wishes for her future endeavors.
The first number performed in the second half was “How Firm a Foundation” by Robert Keen, arranged by Mack Wilberg. Ensign gratefully dedicated this song to the late Mary Ann Heine, Ensign Board Chair and Benefactor. It was a privilege for the ensemble to honor Mary Ann in this way. Also during the second half, Steve introduced the song, Set Me as a Seal by Rene Clausen. He explained the context of this composition with a story about the composer and his wife. He stated, “They struggled to have children for many years when finally the couple was blessed to conceive. Tragically, the baby died while still in the mother’s womb. The intense feelings of grief took Rene to a Bible passage and with this in mind he wrote Set Me as a Seal in twenty minutes. Steve’s words and the music combined to bring everyone knowledge we are each ever present in God’s mind and His care and concern for us is eternal.
As the second half drew to a close, the audience gave Steve and performers a standing ovation. When Debi joined Steve on stage for the final bow, the audience erupted into an even louder applause. As is Ensign tradition that was started by Rob Archibald, both the Symphony & Chorus joined together in singing the encore, Celtic Prayer. It was a touching way to conclude our Season Six opener, and to punctuate the start of a new chapter for Ensign. As difficult as change can be, the future is bright with hope for Ensign to grow and further its mission.
The ensemble looks forward to our second concert in the Unspeakable Joy series, Joy to the World! on Monday, December 17th at 7:30 pm. The Chorus will be under the direction of Steve Danielson and Chase Chang will return as our Symphony conductor. Also gracing the stage will be our all new Ensign Youth & Children’s Choirs with the Training Choir at Intermission. We encourage you, our patrons to join us. It will be the night this Christmas season that will fill our hearts with the spirit of Christmas and help us find and share the joy of the season! Please visit our website for tickets www.seattleensign.org/tickets or contact a member of our ensemble.