Officially transplanted from Austin only a few months ago, symphonic composer Nathan Felix has rolled out a 30-person volunteer “street choir” called From Those Who Follow The Echoes (FTWFTE), bringing an unorthodox musical experience to San Antonio.
The McNay Art Museum and its soon-to-close impressionism exhibition Monet to Matisse will provide the backdrop to Felix’s original composition debuting Thursday, June 1, at 6:30 p.m. His choir plans to be as gently bold as the artwork surrounding it, painting in choral hues with modern orchestration.
While concert hall venues are an acoustically friendly environment for artists, for folks like Felix the same rush can be felt through the jagged edges of performing in an unexpected space, one that redefines how we see the relationship between space and art.
“I describe it as a ‘street choir’ because it is raw, gritty,” Felix said. “There is no separation between the stage and audience. You’re on the ground, all together in the same arteries of the city. There is no backstage, no green room.”
Felix first launched his music in San Antonio through a partnership with the Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio called Piano Kegger 2.o, hosted by the Renewable Republic. Returning to town months later, he started FTWFTE.
The idea behind FTWFTE wasn’t to recruit the city’s top choir members – many of whom were already involved in their own professional endeavors – but to inspire those who just needed a little nudge to let their voices out.
“I came across a lot of singers who wanted to sing, but had inhibitions [or] weren’t necessarily confident in their skill set,” Felix said. “Those were the singers I wanted – people who could grow and grow together.”
Mary Mosley-Jensen is a sixth-grade social studies teacher and yogi who hasn’t performed since high school, but has been with Felix’s group since its inception.
“I sang at my church when I was a little girl, a bright-eyed 9-year old in the adult choir,” Mosley-Jensen said of her childhood days in Milan, Tenn. “I fell in love with singing that way.”
Mosley-Jensen discovered FTWFTE through a friend who agreed to take the leap if she would, and neither has looked back since.
“Singing with this choir has been amazing, because it holds space for me and people like me who love to sing but may have wandered from it,” Mosley-Jensen said. “Once I met Nathan and the choir I felt so welcomed for my presence there, and so I’ve stayed.”
As a director, Felix’s approach isn’t exactly hands-off, but he trusts in the process of surrendering to the moment, Mosley-Jensen said.
“It’s almost as if he creates this beautiful music and then lets it go and lets it become what it’s going to become,” Mosley-Jensen said. “He is a creator who recognizes that his creation will morph and change based upon the people who know and love it, and he just watches that process happen.”
The performance Thursday will feature choreographed movement from the choir, as well as a few surprises.
“For the first two performances, I held back a little bit,” Felix said. “It was my duty to make sure everyone felt comfortable, but also experienced something unexpected and unique. Everyone is starting to understand that it’s not just a choir in terms of ‘a group of singers’ crossing over into different mediums little by little. You’ll see a huge leap from this event to my next project.”
Felix spent many years in Austin and has taken his compositions on tour to China and Japan. He was ready for a change of pace, and his visits to San Antonio left an indelible impression upon his appetite for creation.
“I’m in love with this city,” he said as he looked out the window at warehouses that, to him, represented the next challenge. “I feel like I’m in a relationship. I struggled with leaving Austin, but I decided to follow my gut. This energy connects with me.”
Felix sees San Antonio as something of a “blank slate” in comparison with other major metropolitan areas, and he loves it.
“I am blown away that you can drive downtown in the seventh largest city in the nation and it’s dead. That’s beautiful to me, because it means I can create something within that environment,” Felix said. “Yet I feel there is a divide between the old and progressive establishments here, and I want to find a way to bridge that while keeping the city’s soul.”
For Felix, the year will be defined by FTWFTE’s four-part series that will reach its climax this summer.
“We’ll hit this pinnacle of sorts in spatially utilizing environments, so that we could really play anywhere – under bridges, parachuting, skydiving,” Felix said. “I want other artists to feel inspired to the same thing and say, ‘Why can’t we do it? Let’s push the envelope too!’”