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.