Life on the Road: My Experience with the American Spiritual Ensemble

In October of 2015, Longy singer Todd McNeel Jr. auditioned for the American Spiritual Ensemble. In March of 2016, Todd was selected to join the group for an April tour that features 9 marquee performances across 5 states, punctuated by many more masterclasses, visits to schools and community centers, radio presentations, and more. This is the first of a three-part series. Read part II and part III.

April 15, 2016

By Todd McNeel Jr. 

Sometimes opportunities come at unexpected times, and it is in those moments that you have to make decisions… quickly. The motto of the American Spiritual Ensemble is to be flexible and open to change. In my first week of singing with the ensemble, so much has been thrown my way. But before I get into how I’ve survived week one of a month-long tour of concerts and artist residencies, let me tell you a little bit about ASE.ToddMcNeel_IMG_2585.jpg

The American Spiritual Ensemble seeks to keep the American Negro Folk spirituals alive, a tradition formed almost 400 years ago, by educating its audiences through song and inspirational words in concert and lecture settings worldwide. This year the ensemble celebrates 20 years of existence under the baton of its founder, Dr. Everett McCorvey.

This fall, I auditioned to join the ASE roster, which includes 100 singers. I first saw the ensemble perform in the Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center last spring. I was blown away by the passion the performers displayed and was emotionally moved by their story-telling through the music. I never imagined that a year later I would be on the other side, sharing the stage with some of classical music’s finest emerging and established artists and teachers around the country. Each tour or concert has about 20-25 singers picked and balanced out between SATB. Once the group is picked, the singers (non-New York based) head to NYC for an 18-hour rehearsal period, and then head out on the road for the duration of their contract.

Week one with ASE has been one of the best experiences of my life. I arrived nervous, not knowing what to expect, and was completely embraced and encouraged by my colleagues. I sit in awe of the talent I am surrounded by. Everyday, I get to share the stage with people that have sung in some of world’s finest performance halls including the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, La Scalla, Royal Danish Opera House, Broadway, and so much more.

Over the course of this one week, I’ve been in 3 hotels, 4 different states, and in and out of airports and tour buses. We’ve performed 4 concerts, at 3 convocations, and given countless choral and solo masterclasses. The highlight of the week was having a team from Minnesota Public Radio shadow ASE, providing video footage of the tour and live broadcasting our final concert in Minnesota.

Heading into week two, the madness doesn’t end. This week we prepare for a concert that will feature world renowned opera singer and Grammy winner, Kathleen Battle. What an experience this has already been, and I look forward to the rest of this journey. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity.

Todd McNeel Jr. is a Graduate Performance Diploma candidate in Longy's Opera department. Todd is the recipient of the Neil and Jane Pappalardo Centennial Scholarship and, when he's not on the road, works as a graduate assistant in Longy's Marketing & Communications office.