Jouyssance @ 50: Looking Back

In June of 2018, Jouyssance will mark the 50th Anniversary of the year that our parent organization, The Foundation of the Neo-Renaissance (FNR), became an official nonprofit organization. The story of Jouyssance and the FNR is the story of a community built around love for early music - a tale told in detail by Jouyssance Associate Artistic Director Rick Dechance in a 2009 essay for the Southern California Early Music Society newsletter. In the time since this essay was originally published, Jouyssance has continued to work with Artistic Director Nicole Baker to present creative, accessible programs featuring a wide array of Medieval, Renaissance and early Baroque choral music.   We will kick off our 50th Anniversary year with a special Madrigal Dinner on April 22, 2018: CLICK HERE to come join us!

For nearly twenty years, Jouyssance Early Music Ensemble has explored and shared treasures of early music with our Southern California audiences, sponsored by our parent group, the Foundation of the Neo-Renaissance.  Both organizations owe a great debt to Foundation president and steadfast Jouyssance bass, John Leicester.  John, who also serves as SCEMS’ treasurer, recently retired from Jouyssance and from his position as FNR president.  As we thank John and his devoted wife Dotty for their years of service, we look back on his legacy to us, and on the history of musicmaking that has led to today’s Jouyssance.

By Rick Dechance
Originally published in February 2009, Southern California Early Music News 33(6)

In 1961, the groundbreaking New York Pro Musica Antiqua performed at USC’s Bovard Auditorium.  Outside, a young man named Michael Agnello passed out mimeographed flyers to recruit singers for a new early music ensemble here in Los Angeles.  John had fallen in love with early music back in 1947 at a live performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo.  He soon joined.  This new group, called the Neo-Renaissance Singers, first performed at Loyola University in 1962.  Not long after, accompanied by instrumentalists, they participated in the very first Annual Topanga Festival of Olde Musicke.

FNR 1981.JPG

When the 1967 Festival was cancelled, the Singers decided to take matters into their own hands.  Five members, including John, formally organized a new nonprofit, the Foundation of the Neo-Renaissance (FNR), charged not only with supporting the Neo-Renaissance Singers but with encouraging scholarship and performance of early music in general.  Soon after, Robert Faris took over the position of director from Michael Agnello.  Through the 1970s and 80s, the group continued to perform at fairs under their medieval gonfalon.

In 1990, Jim Stehn, a UCLA graduate student and principal trumpet and cornetto player with the LA Baroque Orchestra, grew frustrated with the lack of opportunities to perform Renaissance music.  He organized a new group of amateur singers and instrumentalists, who voted to name themselves “Jouyssance” after the famous French Renaissance chanson, “Joyssance vous donneray.”

John Leicester joined Jouyssance two years later, and worked with Jim Stehn to bring Jouyssance under the FNR.  Under the FNR’s sponsorship, Jouyssance became the successor to the Neo-Renaissance Singers. The group flourished under  the direction of Chris Putnam and, later, Chris Kula.   Jim Stehn took over as director, bringing professional singers and players into the group.   During Jim’s tenure, the Jouyssance Soloists (including Belinda Wilkins, Nina Treadwell, George Sterne, Gregory Maldonado, and Bruce Birchmore) and the Jouyssance Choir presented several major concerts, including a performance of Josquin’s Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales.  A recording of this Mass was released as Jouyssance’s first CD.

After Jim moved out of state in 1999, Jouyssance hired Dr. Nicole Baker, a professional singer and conductor, who had previously performed with them in concert.  Under Nicole’s vivacious direction, Jouyssance continued to deepen both its musicality and its role as an “amateur” group—in the original sense of the word, as a place where the singers come together out of love for the music.  Her past work in arts administration strengthened the ensemble as Jouyssance developed a regular seasonal schedule of performances, created annual promotional brochures, and released a new eponymous CD.

When Nicole had to step down in 2004 to care for her ailing mother, associate director Colleen Kennedy stepped out of the soprano section to serve as interim director for over a year.  Colleen continues to support Jouyssance as the FNR’s treasurer, and helped arrange rehearsal space for Jouyssance at her church.  During this time, Jouyssance’s instrumentalists, coordinated by longtime Jouyssance countertenor and woodwind player John Robinson, officially organized under the FNR as Jouyssance des Instruments.

A yearlong search for Nicole’s successor brought us Dr. Carol Lisek.  Carol combines thoughtful programming with a love of theatricality, which lent itself especially to our early baroque repertoire.  Nowhere was this more evident than our first joint concert with the Los Angeles Recorder Orchestra, a dramatic performance of Purcell’s masque from Timon of Athens.  After Carol stepped down to pursue her academic career, Nicole Baker returned, and is currently in her eighth season with Jouyssance.

“Jouyssance” has many meanings – some of them, especially during the Renaissance period, racy – but first and foremost, it means a deeply fulfilling joy.  Over a hundred singers and instrumentalists have shared our stage, and all have been touched by the camaraderie, musicianship, and sheer joy of creating music that the Neo-Renaissance Singers and Jouyssance have provided.  Throughout our history, with its many changes, there has always been John Leicester.  His contributions are innumerable.  From maintaining the library to keeping attendance, whether through the annual FNR/SCEMS party or an FNR calendar, both as a singer and as founder and longtime president of the FNR, John has worked to create and sustain this wonderful organization that brings people together to create art and artistry.  We will miss singing with him greatly, but we will never forget his gifts to Los Angeles’ musical culture, and to all of us who have had the deep and fulfilling joy of performing in Jouyssance.