As Betsy Goy, cellist for the alt-classical ensemble Cult of Orpheus was warming up last week, she was thinking about her day job as a psychologist. She said she sees a broad spectrum of clientele, people from all over the political spectrum.
“Every one of them is coming in concerned," Goy said. "They're very worried about the country, about the world. They're coming into therapy asking, ‘What do I do with this? I can't stop thinking about it. I can't sleep at night. It's never been like this before.’”
Goy said it’s her job to form relationships with these folks and learn to focus on what brings us together.
That’s where her practice with this group comes in.
As Cult of Orpheus practiced original songs by founder Christopher Corbell, Goy explained that playing in a small ensemble requires an intense degree of connection.
“You're working all the time to listen to each other and be with one another," Goy said. "He’s written a lot of unisons into the piece, between the vocals and the strings, and we have to work really hard to match for pitch and the length of the note and the intonation. It's a matter of connecting at the deepest level. It's good composition for these times, I think.”
Cult of Orpheus is not your standard chamber group. (What tipped us off? Violist Shadow's graphic tee nod to Kelly Sue DeConnick's "Bitch Planet," bearing the word "non-compliant"? There's so much more to it.)
Corbell brought this group of together to make music that shares some sounds with standard chamber repertoire. But they’re using new compositions and a totally different set of texts and stories that speak to the modern world.
Using a variety of texts, from the Buddhist Dhammapada, to haiku by Isa, Elizabeth Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnets and some by Edna St Vincent Millay, Corbell creates new music with a mission.
“Every human being creates meaning,” Corbell said. “That's what you do all day long, even if you're not realizing it. And I think, if we sacrifice that, if we're either too cynical or to distracted to share it deliberately, then we're kind of left with whatever meaning the fire hose of media or tradition is firing at us.”
Corbell spent some time at a conservatory but he’s mostly self-taught.
The backbone of the upcoming concert — and its recently released album — is “The Emerald Tablet.” Revered in alchemical and astrological tradition, it’s traced back to a figure named Hermes Trimegistus, sometimes described as an ancient prophet.
“According to the story,” Corbell said, “it was this piece of alchemical or spiritual technology. There's a baseline to it. All you really need is a soul to, to access and to contemplate.” He interprets it as spiritualism without tribalism, only individual practice and truth-seeking.
“I’ve always been called the music and words because utterance, to me, matters,” Corbell said.
This, he added, outlines a difference between what Cult of Orpheus does and more traditional repertoire.
“If you're programming works written hundreds of years ago and that have ethnic stereotypes and misogyny in the librettos, or maybe that ignore all of that, in order to give people a safe, aristocratic space,” he said, you’re missing an opportunity.
Cult of Orpheus will present its fifth anniversary show, featuring music from "The Emerald Tablet," Saturday, Aug. 25.