Getting to Know Eudaimonia

If you had asked me what the word “Eudaimonia” means a while ago, I would have shrugged my shoulders and asked for an explanation. Life is funny though. I was asked by Vivian Montgomery, the leader of Eudaimonia, to help them with some publicity for an upcoming concert in November so that led me to the dictionary to see what this mysterious word meant. As it turns out, it’s a wonderful word from the time of Aristotle and it means “the condition of human flourishing or living well.” The Brittanica website explains that “eudaimonia is the highest human good, the only human good that is desirable for its own sake (as an end in itself) rather than for the sake of something else (as a means toward some other end).” After a phone conversation with Vivian, I got a more thorough description of what Eudaimonia, the Boston-based purposeful period band was all about and my admiration for the musicians who play in this group grew exponentially as I discovered more about their partnerships with humanitarian groups. This year’s focus is on mental health organizations devoted to musicians.

The world works in mysterious ways, I went from having no idea about what “eudaimonia” meant to randomly meeting a reiki practitioner at an Americana music festival in Connecticut last weekend and she mentioned the word. We were volunteering and began talking about our lives and she explained that she had just begun a healing practice with a colleague in Vermont. The name of the business? Eudaimonia. Of course. She was delighted to learn about this band and my role in helping to promote their next concert.

Eudaimonia will be playing with the bass clarinet ensemble, Improbable Beasts, at a concert to celebrate the patron saint of music, St. Cecilia. Mark November 20 on your calendar and come to this collaborative concert at the Unity Parish of Brookline. The show is at 7:30 pm. The social action partner is the Boston organization, Tunefoolery. It is now in its 25th year and enable local musicians to find purpose and their own identities.

Admission to this show is a “pay what you decide” format. Find out more information about purchasing tickets and about the band here.

Vivian Montgomery, DMA, is an award-winning harpsichordist and fortepianist who has just completed residence as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar at the University of Southampton in England. She teaches at Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA.

Vivian Montgomery was kind enough to answer some specific questions about the band, its purpose and plans, and about herself!

What led to the formation of Eudaimonia?

In 2014, I returned from living in England to a new teaching job at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, and also to new thoughts about how I wanted to operate in the Boston performance scene and the early music world. I wanted to create an ensemble that was really collectively led, that broke a number of restrictive boundaries in relation to repertoire and performance style, and that served a greater purpose beyond playing music for a rather static audience. The goal was to use musical work and concerts to lift up the work and the importance of social service and humanitarian organizations in Boston. It turned out that my wonderful co-director, violinist Julia McKenzie, was also looking for a new direction along the same lines and we quickly started working together in forming Eudaimonia, A Purposeful Period Band. The thing that we’ve loved about it has been that while we pursued a mission, made important professional and artistic connections, and achieved a great deal towards the goals of breaking down tiring divisions in the musical realm, we’ve also developed real friendship and a lasting sense of connection within the group, enjoying the creative process and collaboration, celebrating the ensemble’s uniqueness.

How would you describe the music that you make? 

We’re definitely an early music ensemble in the sense that we use period nstruments from the Baroque era and we perform a good amount of music from the 17th and 18th centuries, but that’s where it stops in terms of the limitations of that repertoire or that type of ensemble, We constantly are blending in a wide array of other types of music that matched themes, messages, or just feelings that we wanted to use in order to bring unity and depth to our concerts. Our programs encompass jazz, music from many other cultures (South America, Israel, Eastern Europe, the Arab world, and more), a certain amount of pop and rock borrowing, as well as folk favorites, improvisation, and avant-garde music. The beauty of our ensemble members is that we all are boundary breakers in the sense that we not only play our “main” Instruments (like me with the harpsichord), but we also play other instruments (like me with the accordion). For instance, while our incredible period reed instrument player Diane Heffner has played the 18th century chalumeau with us, she plays it the way she would play jazz clarinet or saxophone, which she also does brilliantly.

How long have you been playing together?  Have the core members more or less remained the same?

We started in 2015 so that’s seven years. There’s a core of the ensemble that has remained pretty consistent, but we’ve done some large performances that involved a much greater number of musicians, up to 30, and we’ve also had some wonderful guests, as well as students because of doing collaborations through Longy. So, it’s kind of the best of both worlds in the sense that we’ve really gotten to know each other at the core, but we’re always reaching out to new elements and spirits.

I’m most curious about what your impetus was for learning the harpsichord.  What is it about the instrument that resonates with you?

I started learning the harpsichord when I was at the University of Michigan as a piano major, and I like to say that my harpsichord teacher could have been teaching kazoo and I would’ve probably become a kazoo player. I just found the lessons that I took with him to be more eye-opening, ear-opening, and inspiring than any musical training I had been exposed to up until then. He just really introduced me to the whole world of Baroque performance, repertoire, singing, collaboration, improvisation, and how to work with that particular instrument to make it sing, to bring it as many colors as possible. It just became my instrument and I stayed with that. I am a pianist, and an organist, and I also became an accordionist in response to my Jewish Heritage and a desire to engage with music in a different way apart from the classical music brown. But the harpsichord is still where I feel most myself. I’m not a particularly rabid specialist, I like to think of instruments as being highly transferable to all different styles and modes of expression, but I also do like teaching people how to play the harpsichord in the most expressive and rewarding way. I love the way it feels, and I love how a good instrument vibrates and rings. Its clarity and the connection to plucking is very special to me.

Tell us a bit about the band and its mission to make music with a humanitarian slant.

We’ve had some tremendous connections through our social action mission and we’ve particularly been moved by the ways in which the work of our partner organizations influence the themes and shaping of our programs. We also really love the fact that, in connecting with humanitarian and social service initiatives, we end up often playing for a very different audience, and we see the impact of informing a more typical concert going public about the work of these organizations. Our partners for different concerts have included those who work on behalf of women who’ve experienced of domestic abuse, support agencies for the unhoused, organizations working against discrimination or providing financial support for new immigrants, and those that provide funding for families struggling against poverty. I’m particularly thrilled about partnering for our upcoming November 20 concert with Tunefoolery, an organization for musicians in mental health recovery. We’ve also partnered with Shelter Music Boston for our very first concert and will again for our January program. It’s a profound and meaningful part of our work that allows us to do what we do best, which is make music, while lifting up and bringing support to programs that are doing another kind of God’s work.

What will the program of your November show be?  Are there any particulate pieces that you especially like?

Our November 20th concert is a celebration of St. Cecilia’s Day and it’s a collaboration with another unusual ensemble called Improbable Beasts, made up entirely of bass clarinetists and led by composer Jonathan Russell. The idea behind St. Cecilia’s Day is to celebrate the patron saint of music while also basking in the glories of nature and the celestial. We’re actually doing somewhat more traditional Baroque repertoire for this program because of also featuring the crossover element of our collaborating ensemble, so we’ll be going back to some of our favorite Baroque composers, focusing very much on music that brings the pathos and the playfulness of our social action organization Tunefoolery. I can’t wait to play music by Handel, Telelmann, and Purcell with my favorite musicians!

What do you have planned for 2023?

We’ll be doing another concert on January 28 that is in line with what we refer to as our annual Boundary Issues programs – truly crossover events that exploit all of the various talents and stylistic languages of the female members of our group. The program is called “The Nightingale’s Unending Song” and it will be in partnership with Shelter Music Boston. Another program we have planned for May is a kind of zany mix of Bach and Baroque music in all of its different manifestations across the centuries, including Swingles Singers and various jazz renditions. This is the brainchild of our co-director Julia McKenzie and it’s going to be a blast!