On February 28th and March 1st, Chicago-based professional vocal ensembles La Caccina and Constellation Men’s Ensemble combine forces to confront themes of memory, loss, and aging. A portion of the proceeds from all tickets sold will go to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter for the advancement of care, support and research for those affected by the disease. One of the co-founders of Constellation Men’s Ensemble, Ryan Townsend Strand, shares his connection to the cause.
“I’m originally from Minnetonka, MN and am a graduate of Hopkins High School. I received my Bachelor’s degree in music from California Lutheran University and my Master’s of Music degree from Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music. I currently live in Edgewater here in Chicago. When I’m not singing, I enjoy running and being outside, experimenting with recipes in the kitchen, playing with my kitten Charlie and listening to Podcasts. My favorite vacation spot is Grand Marais, MN, a beautiful town on Lake Superior that prides itself on art, food and natural beauty. Northern Minnesota is always the place that I feel the most myself.
I’m a founding member of Constellation Men’s ensemble. In 2013, I was asked by co-founders Lennie Cottrell and Derek Boemler to join them for what then was simply getting together Saturday mornings to sing and then share a beer. The organization was incorporated as a non-profit in 2015 and I was appointed as its executive director in 2016. Since then, I’ve founded our NOVA new music series, produced over a dozen concerts, and sung each season with CME. It is a highlight of my musical career.
The inspiration for Alone With Myself comes from my experience with Alzheimer’s disease. Both of my grandparents, Jone & Charles Gedge, or Nana and Papa as I knew them, were huge supporters of me and music even from a young age. Some of my first memories of them include being asked to play piano at their house. They lived on the North Shore of Chicagoland for many years and we would often take family road trips to visit them. When they retired to Naples, Florida our visits were even more iconic with mini-golf, dinner theater, and endless games of cards. Our bond was special. I learned etiquette, respect, passion and family values. By the time my grandfather was diagnosed with dementia, I was in college in California. I began to take up writing postcards when I could, following in my Uncle Skip’s path who wrote his father, my Papa, one postcard per day for years until the day he died.
Visits were far more erratic, with his behavior often landing him in trouble with the assisted living staff. He was always a jokester, but there was an unrecognizable person making jokes at the expense of others rather than inviting people to laugh with him. My Nana began to experience innocent visions, often telling us of a little girl who would appear. Over the summers after my grandfather’s death, I often would make time to be with my Nana, but she was far more fragile, unsure of herself, and much time was spent explaining situations to her to keep her from being confused. So much of their life consisted of gifting me experiences and teaching me things that it felt like a closing of the circle to be the one giving experiences to them and explaining things to them. I’m forever grateful for my relationship with both of them before they passed, but the loss of self was never easy to swallow.
When we came together over a year ago to discuss the second collaboration between La Caccina and Constellation Men’s Ensemble, the energy was palpable (not only thanks to the coffee). I had been part of the world premiere of Rob Maggio’s The Woman Where We Are Living in 2014 with The Crossing in Philadelphia and knew that I wanted to perform the work again in Chicago. After our last collaboration with La Caccina, I knew that our combined forces would be perfect for bringing to life this complex and impassioned work. The concerts promise to be beautiful and hopeful, with powerful music at its core. Losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s or dementia is often an isolating and lonely experience. My hope for these concerts is to see people of all ages coming together in community for an experience to grieve, to pay tribute, to honor, and to process all of the many facets of memory loss. Through our ticket sales, a portion of the proceeds will be donated directly to the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter, and I would love to see us make an impactful gift thanks to our supporters.”