The Girl Who Found Her Halo

By   /  December 13, 2010  /  No Comments

Laura Hairgrove’s conductorless chamber orchestra, Halo Ensemble, aims “to reflect the abundance of life through performing art.”

By Lindsey A. Frederick

Twenty-seven-year-old flutist Laura Hairgrove didn’t wait for her big break. She created it. It was 2008, the end of Laura’s first semester in the Longy School of Music master’s program.

She told God she would go wherever he wanted that year. But Laura didn’t expect what came next. On impulse she and two friends, Canadian violinist Caroline Chéhadé and Finnish cellist Pauliina Pölönen, met in Finland over New Year’s to hang out and play some informal concerts for friends and family. By their third concert people asked if their group was on tour. It was then that Laura felt strongly the group should stay together. The idea of a large performing ensemble was birthed.

The Halo Ensemble was primarily inspired by and patterned after Laura’s long-time musical heroes, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. This New York-based conductorless ensemble brings chamber music technique to the orchestral process. Their repertoire includes traditional, orchestral, and newly commissioned works. Laura envisioned the Halo Ensemble in much the same way, but with a twist. She wanted her faith to be a core component of her music making. Part of Laura’s mission is to bridge the gap between artists and the church. She sees the ensemble as a way to reconcile music and the Gospel.

Pauliina Pölönen, Caroline Chéhadé, and Laura Hairgrove, Crescendo Summer Institute of the Arts, Sárospatak, Hungary (August 2009). Photo courtesy of the Halo Ensemble.

Halo draws on 2 Chronicles 5:11-14 as its anchor verses. The Levitical priests lifted up their instruments in one voice of praise, singing, “He is good; his love endures forever.” The temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud of glory. “I think that’s the concept that needs to be brought back into the arts world,” says Laura. “Right now the arts world is very self-serving, but there is this seeking of ‘Why is music important?’ and when you realize it’s meant to point people towards God, then [it has] a purpose.”

By summer 2009, Laura’s vision blossomed. She and founding members Caroline and Pauliina attended the MasterWorks Festival—a four-week intensive arts program—and friends expressed interest. “People got all excited about it, but we really weren’t sure if we could actually make this happen,” says Laura. After a month, Halo grew to eleven members who represented five countries and six U.S. states, and they accepted the group’s first gigs in Hungary and Finland.

One of the first things the group learned was they could not rehearse without spending at least an hour in prayer. Laura jokes that they are the performing arts zoo. “We’re such a diverse group of people. By all common sense, we should not be able to play together!”

Halo Ensemble, Crescendo Summer Institute of the Arts, Sárospatak, Hungary. Photo courtesy of the Halo Ensemble.

The personalities that make up Halo can be seen in the bright, individually chosen colored tops they wear for performances. In the year since the group was established, they have doubled to 22 members ranging in ages from 19 to 27.

When the group is not touring, they communicate through email and Skype. “We try to keep the community,” says Laura. “We hold weekly conference calls with the leadership and monthly prayer meetings with all 22 members.” Until Laura finds a central headquarters for Halo, they operate on a project-by-project basis. In August, they finished their second European tour, which included both missions and secular venues: Urban Dreams, Finland’s largest missions event, and Helsinki Festival, one of Europe’s largest secular arts festivals. The tour featured their debut collaboration with Xaris Dance Company.

Many audience members have attributed something “deeply spiritual” to Halo’s music, which largely consists of classical repertoire, commissioned works, and worship improv. After a café concert in Finland in 2009, two businesswomen asked about their music. “We’ve never heard music like that before,” they said. Pauliina told them they played traditional hymns that declare Jesus is Lord. Laura recalls another instance from the same tour, “In Hungary an audience member told us afterward that she saw her whole life story from beginning to end. That was not something we [knew] would happen. That’s what we routinely see when we perform: people are touched in an individual way that we can’t anticipate.” Laura believes that a story is shared in the concert as people experience something outside of the music. That’s what she hopes will happen in the concert. “We want God to use us as he sees fit whether that’s through healing, praise or to make a space for him to work.”

Her 10-year plan might have turned out much differently than she expected, but Laura is planning ahead. She has put plans for her doctorate on hold and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to set up headquarters. She is spending her first year out of grad school establishing Halo as a non-profit and fundraising until a development team is put in place. “My dream job has always been to be a part of a conductorless chamber orchestra like Orpheus … and to see it happen this way is so exciting! This was not in the plan, but it is so much more fulfilling, because it’s a reconciliation of my faith and art.”

Halo Ensemble, Uskon Yö (Night of the Arts Festival), Lohja, Finland. Photo courtesy of the Halo Ensemble.

For more information about the Halo Ensemble visit: www.haloensemble.org

Lindsey A. Frederick is the Communications Director of the Christian Performing Artists’ Fellowship, sponsor of the MasterWorks Festival. Her writing credits include Church Libraries, Transpositions, Senior Life Monthly and numerous in-house publications for CPAF, including a daily blog and monthly newsletter. Lindsey’s love of the arts began when she was a toddler dancing on her grandmother’s dining room table. She currently lives in Winona Lake, Indiana.

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