As a part of Jouyssance and the Foundation of the Neo-Renaissance's 50th Anniversary Madrigal Dinner on April 22, 2018, we will be honoring a very special member of our choir family: Phoebe Liebig. Phoebe has been an integral part of the Los Angeles early music community since she arrived here in 1954, and we are eternally grateful for her voice and her support. Phoebe graciously agreed to answer a few questions about herself for us, and the edited version of the interview is below.
When did you first start singing choral music? Have you always loved Medieval and Renaissance music, particularly? What do you like most about these eras?
I was interested in the art of those periods (my mother was an artist): usually colorful and with a focus on human beings and their challenges. I continued to sing and took solfege lessons in Cambridge, MA where I grew up, and then choral groups in secondary school in Chicago and Milwaukee. I returned to Cambridge where I sang with the Radcliffe Choral Society and the Harvard Glee Club. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1954, I took a madrigal class at UCLA--we were offered a chance to do some TV work for a program of Stephen Foster, and that led to the Gregg Smith Singers with whom I sang until Gregg moved to NY. We did a lot of Renaissance music (as well as contemporary composers-e.g. Schoenberg) including Gesualdo and made several recordings, especially the Monteverdi Vespers.
When did you first become involved in the Foundation of the Neo-Renaissance (or its predecessors)?
I became involved with Jouyssance because I wanted to continue singing Renaissance music. We were a bunch of Renaissance groupies and met once a week in someone's home. John Leicester chose our name. Michael Angello was our first director and we sang in a number of places, not just churches. One of our basses, a lawyer, suggested we should create a foundation that would allow us to attract audiences and donors. The FNR was the result. Without John Leicester's passionate commitment and the mastery of our second director, Robert Faris, we would not exist today.
Do you remember any early concerts or performances that particularly stood out? What about a favorite program more recently?
We sang in the first Renaissance Faire that was held in a couple of classrooms in a Valley elementary school and then became regulars at the annual Faire in the Malibu mountains. We also sang in restaurants in the Malibu hills. Due to the influence of the 'sixties, we also did a couple of concerts under bridges and also with a band--the United States of America. We became a regular at the Topanga Canyon Community House, where we presented a Cloth of Gold performance. A lot of the music we chose was based on many trips to the UCLA music library.
And do you have a favorite Jouyssance program?
Each of them is always a new experience because of Nicole's and Rick's creativity in unearthing lots of new material. Steve Padilla's "plays" are always fun. And I love being part of the alto section (and getting to sing tenor from time to time).
Do you have a favorite composer and/or style of Medieval or Renaissance choral music? If so, what about that type of music is most attractive to you?
I have too many favorite composers--the Franco-Flemish group and their period are always a source of joy. Hildegard, Dufay, Josquin, Victoria and Monteverdi are my headliners. Music and art are always my sanity for what I have done in my everyday life.
Do you have any hopes for Jouyssance in the future?
We are so very different from when I joined in 1999. Our musicianship has gotten better over the years. My hope is we will continue to improve beyond where we are now and continue to present music that is both familiar and unique. More of same!! And I keep hoping we will work out some way to involve younger singers in a joint concert or two on an annual basis.
Can you tell us a little bit about your life outside of Jouyssance and the early music community?
I have had several careers: secondary teacher, TA (UCLA), software developer, grant writer, professor (USC, School of Gerontology and also at the USC Health Campus). My immediate family consists of my son (jazz artist and composer), his wife (ceramicist), grandson (writer, marketer) and grand-daughter (photographer and art). I have had two Fulbrights to India and other trips there for my research. I have served on many boards (housing, the FNR, professional organizations), have written a lot of journal articles, book chapters and encyclopedia articles, and have received several awards in the field of gerontology. I am a gardener, bird watcher, -- never have enough time to read all the books I have or to go to all the museums I want. For the last 5 years I have been focused on creativity over the lifespan (old music helps!!) and the factors that increase or inhibit that development.