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Living Voices

a concert program of new works exploring mysteries of vocal phenomena

The Latest Update

Sotto Voce had a wonderful time on our Rust Belt mini-tour!

Posted on June 13, 2018 by Jessie Downs

The Voces were so grateful for the opportunity to perform in Oberlin and Cleveland this past weekend. The program was well received by our new audiences, who remarked on such elements as the plethora of vocal colors in individual voices and through the ensemble, the fluid programming and variety of temporal experiences from piece to piece, as well as the refreshing nature of hearing new music written specifically for voices.

We have also replaced some of the recordings from the playlist posted in our previous update with recordings from the tour, namely the Saariaho pieces, Lucier’s “Unamuno,” and our commissioned work “The Sonnets” by Alex Huddleston – all of which benefited greatly from being presented multiple times, allowing us to explore their subtleties.

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Live recordings of the program’s premier are now online!

Posted on May 31, 2018 by Jessie Downs

You can now listen to the entire Living Voices program – as performed on April 29th in Buffalo – on Sotto Voce’s soundcloud! 

One of several reasons we are excited to have received New Music USA’s support for this project is that moving forward, we may be able to make higher-quality studio recordings of our commissioned works. This would provide crucial documentation that captures the subtleties of the pieces’ performances, for use by both the ensemble and our collaborators.

The funding will also help us with our upcoming mini-tour that kicks off in a week’s time. Stay tuned for the details on where and when you may be able to hear this program in person! On the tour we will also be adding two new pieces to the concert experience: “Heu! Me misera,” an arrangement of an ancient chant by Mary Larew and a new version of “Noli esse vana,”written by our bass Brien Henderson.

The “Living Voices” program was successfully premiered!

Posted on May 30, 2018 by Jessie Downs

On April 29th, 2018 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, the Living Voices program was given its Buffalo debut! The program featured three piece premiers, including the newly commissioned works “The Sonnets” by Alex Huddleston and “Dite Me” by Jamie Leigh Sampson, as well as Marianne Schuppe’s “der blumen.” Here is a picture of the happy composers with all of the Voces, just after the performance.

From left to right: Suzanne Fatta (tenor), Julia Anne Cordani (soprano), Brien Henderson (bass), Gabrielle Carr (alto), Jamie Leigh Sampson (composer), Blake Hurlburt (tenor), Jessie Downs (soprano, Artistic Director), William Zino (baritone), Alex Huddleston (composer), Helen Lowry (alto); photo credit Igor Coelho Arantes Santana Marques)


The human voice is an instrument like no other. It is both evidence of the bodies it belongs to and can seem to emanate from nowhere at all. It is a vehicle for language and yet always communicates something beyond the powers of either words or music alone. We all posses a voice, yet many of its workings remain inexplicable.


This April, Sotto Voce Vocal Collective – a contemporary vocal ensemble based in Buffalo, NY – will present Living Voices, a concert program which explores the mysteries of vocal phenomena. This will be the first time the ensemble has commissioned new works crafted specifically for our voices. After 5 concert seasons, in which we have performed 23 works by living composers, we feel that this commissioning project is the next step in our development. We hope to share this program beyond our home city of Buffalo, both by making and distributing a studio recording of the commissioned pieces and embarking on a short Rust Belt tour in June of 2018.


Each commissioned work will highlight different possibilities of writing for vocal ensemble. “Dite Me” (Tell Me) by Jamie Leigh Sampson of Fredonia will feature slowly unfolding textures which shift in startling ways when articulated by different ensemble subsets. Gravelly microtonal sonorities will be sung to texts which explore the ways in which our own bodies can haunt us. “The Sonnets” by Alex Huddleston of Buffalo will use a fixed electronics track to create a sense of space within a space. While this plays at the front of the hall, voices will sing from the back, articulating texts about water’s potential for both growth and destruction.


The commissioned pieces will be presented alongside mysterious vocal works by four other living composers. Kaija Saariaho’s “From the Grammar of Dreams” uses fragmented interweaving lines to convey a dreamlike state of consciousness. Alvin Lucier’s “Una Muno” explores the acoustic  phenomenon of beating. “long, after” by Chicago-based Nomi Epstein juxtaposes long tones with muffled speech and silent physical gestures, exploring three basic parameters of the voice as presence. “der blumen” by Wandelweiser composer-vocalist Marianne Schuppe traces the development of casual vocal sound into the blossoming of ensemble sonorities. Audience members will be welcomed into the magic of each piece through poetic interludes which guide listening.


Sotto Voce believes in creating opportunities for voices to be heard, and in more ways than one. Through projects like this, we aim to foster positive collaboration between vocal performers and composers, emphasizing respect for the creative voices of all. We also work to showcase underrepresented composers, with a focus on celebrating the voices of women and genderqueer composers. Lastly, we strive to format our concerts in ways which illuminate the beauty of new and unusual music to any audience. We believe that recording and touring the Living Voices program will help us to share our ensemble’s voice and the voices of our collaborators with a broader community.

Project Media

Sotto Voce performs Jamie Leigh Sampson’s “Concealed Imaginings,” November 2017
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Sotto Voce greatly enjoyed performing Jamie Leigh Sampson’s SSAA quartet “Concealed Imaginings” on our Fall 2017 program. Sampson’s rich sonorities and twisting lines beautifully emphasize the strengths of each voice in the quartet as well as the power of collective vocal sound. The whole group is excited to begin work on Jamie’s new mixed-ensemble piece “Dite Me,” which will similarly explore the psychological impact of abuse.

Alex Huddleston’s “Plague Journal” recorded by Jessie Downs and Christian Smith, April 2017
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This recording of Alex Huddleston’s “Plague Journal” by Sotto Voce’s artistic director Jessie Downs (alongside percussionist Christian Smith) is a tantalizing preview of the ephemeral sound worlds awaiting Sotto Voce in “The Sonnets.” We are looking forward to the collaborative process of interpreting one of Alex’s unique modular scores.

Sotto Voce performs Julius Eastman’s “Buddha” at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, February 2017
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Suggested listening: (4:40-7:00) and/ or (9:00- 11:45)

This realization of Julius Eastman’s open score “Buddha” demonstrates Sotto Voce’s dedication to original programming. The performance was held in a large art gallery space through which we moved while singing. This setting blurred the line between performers and audience, enveloping all in a rich sonic wash.

Start and End Dates



Buffalo, New York

3 updates
Last update on June 13, 2018

Project Created By

Buffalo, New York
Jessie Downs is a composer, vocalist, and teaching artist for whom music is a medium for sharing personal experiences and entering into community with others. As a composer, her aesthetic is one which treasures the uncanny and surprising beauty of wild yet delicate things. While she has written for a number of instrumentations, her favorite media include…

In Collaboration With

Fredonia, New York
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo, New York


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