Monday, January 30, 2012

Across Sea and Land Walk the Wayward Sisters, Violin in Hand

If the Wayward Sisters are linked with a kind of mythical being, their audiences would undoubtably agree that they share more in common with sirens than the three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth, from whom the ensemble takes its name.

Anne Timberlake, recorders; Anna Steinhoff, cello;
Beth Wenstrom, violin; John Lenti, theorbo and guitar
Making waves recently, the Wayward Sisters won Early Music America's Naxos Recording Competition of 2011 not long after snatching the Newberry Consort's title of Emerging Artist for 2010-2011. The quartet, formed in 2009, is made up of violinist Beth Wenstrom, flute-à-bec-ist Anne Timberlake, cellist Anna Steinhoff, and lutenist John Lenti.

With a name that rather cogently hints at an unfortunate reality, the Wayward Sisters have been living in separate cities since they began. With busy freelance schedules in Seattle, WA; New York, NY; Chicago, IL; and Richmond, VA; it's almost miraculous they've managed to find the time to rehearse and perform together. Luckily, I managed to talk to them in New York while they took a break from rehearsing some of the material for their upcoming CD, Musick for Severall Friends.

The disk, which will be recorded this coming July in Toronto, will, in true Naxos-label fashion, focus completely on the broken consort music of Matthew Locke. Though it wasn't what the Sisters had proposed in their application to the EMA/Naxos competition, they are very happy with the challenge. "I take it as a great compliment," says John, "knowing that we were chosen based on our performance... [it's nice knowing] they believed we could do anything they [put in front of us]."

Once the Wayward Sisters were crowned winners of the EMA/Naxos competition, they immediately began planning their next step: how to fund the recording. Though they had won a CD contract through Naxos, which payed for costs towards the CD's production, distribution, and marketing, they were still responsible for their own accommodation, food, and travel expenses. Though the victory may have at first tasted bittersweet, their next move most certainly renewed their appetite for a record.

The Sisters decided that a fund-raising campaign was needed in order for them to pay their way to Toronto, as well as any other expenditures (food, costs for pre-recording performance, etc.). Before they got started, the Sisters applied for 501(c) 3 status, a smart move and one that is not often done soon enough. "We talked to many of our friends about it and they all said the same thing," says Anna, " 'get charitable status'." "We did what we were told," said Beth. 501(c)3 status not only exempts an organization from paying tax, it allows the organization to give its donors a tax-deductible receipt for any contributions, an important factor in luring donations. Most granting agencies in the U.S. require applicants to have the status in order to be eligible for funding.By the middle of November, they had their status and their campaign was in place. How did they do it? In a word, Kickstarter.

An incredibly resourceful tool for fund-raising campaigns of any size, the website both publishes the initiative, and provides an interesting twist which acts as a quality-control. Kickstarter requires every initiative to register a reasonable financial target to be achieved by a certain date. If the initiative reaches or surpasses its target, the money is then transferred from the pledgers to, in this case, the ensemble. If the initiative does not meet its target by the deadline, no money is exchanged.

Surprisingly, the reaction to the Sisters' initiative was a very generous one. In 15 days the Sisters met their target of $3,465 and by the deadline, a whopping $4,936. "We sent out emails about [the campaign] and we promoted it over [our Facebook page]," explains John, "it became something where [many people] just donated five, ten, or twenty dollars.""We were amazed at the [final figure]," says Beth, "I don't think we were expecting to make our goal so quickly either." Anne also noted that the donors were not only those familiar with the ensemble, "we found out we had fans out there whom we didn't was very exciting."

Though the Wayward Sisters were not the first early-music ensemble to use Kickstarter, they are among a creative few. "I knew some rock bands who had used it," says Anna, "and they had had some success with it... so why not [us]?"

With successful fund-raising campaign completed seven months before their session in Toronto, the Sisters show us the potential of the internet for ensembles of their kind. With a campaign based online and promoted via email and social media, the quartet only need now to focus on their music making, and thanking their donors. Their support, from the four corners of the earth, has both humbled and energized them. As John put it, "it gave me faith in the internet."

If you'd like to hear the Wayward Sisters, you can visit their webpage.
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