For soprano Elise (Gidley) Groves, ’06, ’07, the path from Oregon State University to sharing the stage in London with famed vocal ensemble The Tallis Scholars was a bit different than you might expect from a working professional vocalist.
At OSU Elise took voice lessons, studied conducting, piano, performed in choirs and did all the other things that you would expect a university music student to do. But at the time she wasn’t particularly interested in pursuing a career as a performer, and after graduating she taught choir in the Tigard-Tualatin School District for several years.
All the while, early music and its unique performance traditions kept calling.
“I began my performance training very late,” she says. “I had to work very hard to catch up with my peers. But now, it’s those experiences in areas other than music performance that have given me a leg up on some of my colleagues. I have a broader experience and knowledge base than someone who set out to be a performer and didn’t take those detours into related areas. Looking back, I can see how all those things came together to get me where I am now. But at the time, I struggled to find the right direction and doubted whether I would ever have a truly satisfying career in music.”
In 2010, Elise moved to Boston to pursue a Master of Music in early music performance at the Longy School of Music of Bard College. At Longy, she focused specifically on honing her skillset in performing music from the Baroque, Renaissance and Medieval eras. Her versatility and knowledge as a performer have allowed Groves to carve out a unique professional niche for herself.
For instance, one of her regular gigs is singing as a professional chorister with an 18-member all-professional choir at a church in downtown Boston. Here on the West Coast, a gig like this might seem unusual, but in Boston a gig like this is, for many performers just that: another gig.
“It is important to note,” she adds, “that this work is completely separate from my personal convictions. While I am a person of faith, many of my colleagues are not. It isn’t about personal beliefs or practices – it’s a way to make a stable living as a singer.”
Groves didn’t actually win the initial chorister audition; another singer nabbed the full-time position, but Elise ended up working as a substitute with the choir for two months. Then, another full-time soprano position opened up and she’s been with the ensemble ever since.
Finding that stable, regular performing gig has allowed Elise to continually develop her skillset as a concert soloist and specialist in historically informed performances of early music.
In addition to her regular chorister gig, Groves has performed with many notable ensembles including the Handel and Haydn Society, Exsultemus, The Bach Project, and numerous other groups in Boston, New York and across the country.
Even as an established working professional musician, expanding and refining her skillset continues to be a priority.
A few years ago, Groves won a highly competitive audition to attend a Carnegie Hall education program where The Tallis Scholars presented “Spem in Alium,” a remarkable 40-part Renaissance motet by Thomas Tallis and other important choral works of the Renaissance.
For those not familiar, The Tallis Scholars are a world-renowned British early music vocal ensemble that, over the four-plus decades of its existence, has solidified sacred vocal music of the Renaissance as a cornerstone of the Western classical tradition. They perform at a remarkably precise and highly consistent level, and have become known as one of the finest classical a cappella vocal ensembles in the world.
During the program, she met Peter Phillips (leader of the group), several of the singers from the ensemble and sang one of the ‘extra’ parts (The Tallis Scholars only have ten regular members) in “Spem in Alium.”
Fast forward to London. Summer 2018. Cadogan Hall.
Groves is now out there on the stage with The Tallis Scholars performing “Spem In Alium” and excerpts from the “Eton Choirbook,” one of the most complete sources of original Tudor choir music to have survived the upheaval of the Reformation.
How did the London gig come about? “By being in the right place at the right time!” she says, referring to initially meeting the ensemble at the Carnegie Hall program.
Of course, there’s more to the story. Elise spent years honing her abilities so that when the right opportunity came along, she would be ready to succeed.
“I am constantly working to improve who I am as a musician and what I can offer to both the other musicians I work with and to audiences,” she says. “Every single one of those things is something that can be developed, but it definitely takes effort and dedication. It’s not a quick process.”
Effort and dedication are the foundation of every successful musical career, and despite the late start to her performance career and initial struggles to find her direction, Groves has flourished as a performer and is making a living in an undeniably competitive industry.
The Tallis Scholars seem to appreciate Elise’s dedication to continually improving her skillset as a performer as well – she was invited by the ensemble to return for another performance in March, 2019.
Learn more about Elise Groves at: http://www.elisemgroves.com
Story by Zachary C. Person
Photo by Kate L. Photography