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Carolyn Surrick & Ronn McFarlane Release New Holiday Album - A Star in the East

A Star in the East

Album Out Now:

Plus New Video for "Carol of the Bells":

On October 29, 2021, viola da gambist Carolyn Surrick and lutenist Ronn McFarlane released a new holiday album, A Star in the East, featuring reimagined traditional Christmas favorites alongside new works by both McFarlane and Surrick. Surrick is well-known for her fifteen recordings with the group she founded in 1998, Ensemble Galilei. McFarlane, nominated for a Grammy in 2009, is the founder of Ayreheart and a founding member of the Baltimore Consort. In November 2020, the duo released their well-received first album together, Fermi’s Paradox, created and recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic when both performers’ usually busy concert schedules were cancelled. On that album and this new recording, Surrick and McFarlane weave a tapestry of music ranging from 15th Century Europe to 21st Century America, seamlessly held together by the timelessness of their instruments and their extraordinary musicianship.

For A Star in the East, Surrick and McFarlane have assembled a program that honors and celebrates everything that Christmas can be, and the unexpected ways that it has been transformed. The album includes Ronn McFarlane’s A Star in the East, along with his Early Christmas Morning and Grinch on the Run; Carolyn Surrick’s Mizzie Mine; Bach’s Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light; Barber’s Sure on this Shining Night; and classics such as Carol of the Bells; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Good King Wenceslas; O Come, O Come Emmanuel; Greensleeves, and many more.

Surrick’s composition, Mizzie Mine, is inspired by letters she received from her Swedish immigrant great-grandmother, which always began, “My dearest Mizzie Mine and family.” Surrick says, “My most beloved memories of Christmas are from my grandparent’s house. There’s not a detail that does not resonate. There was love, a roast leg of lamb, sweet rolls, and joy in that house, and my memories are full of longing for those days, and a recognition of the sweet sorrow for the end of childhood.”

McFarlane’s A Star in the East describes a journey – of moving forward, perhaps to a destination unknown. McFarlane says, “A Star in the East is a piece written specifically for Carolyn. To me, the ‘Star’ is not only a Star in the sky but also a window into a finer, more beautiful world of spirit.”

As one can hear in the resulting recording, the process of making this album was special, and a memorable experience for all involved. Surrick explains, “Every project is different. And when we put our many decades of experience together, it is likely that the result will be marvelous. It is not always the case that the process will be transcendent – but in this case it was. Truly, as we spent day after day in the studio, our sense of shared purpose increased. As musicians, we felt supported and heard. As people we felt cared for and valued. As a team we worked together to create a recording that was so much more than the sum of its parts. And I can hear it. When I listen, I hear beauty. I hear collaboration. I hear those ineffable moments of pure music. And I am deeply grateful for this opportunity, these people, that place, and the shared passion for the work. It was, indeed, miraculous.”

About the Artists:

Carolyn Surrick has a B.A. in music from the University of California Santa Cruz and an M.A. in musicology from George Washington University. She founded Ensemble Galilei in 1990 and the group started touring the U.S. in 1995. With Ensemble Galilei, she recorded fifteen CDs and produced four special projects including a partnership with The National Geographic Society for the creation of First Person: Stories from the Edge of the World as well as a collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art to produce First Person: Seeing America.

With Celtic harper, Sue Richards, and multi-instrumentalist, Ginger Hildebrand, Surrick spent eight years of Fridays working with wounded warriors at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. She also worked with wounded warriors at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, as well as with Project Odyssey for the Wounded Warrior Project. The trio recorded two CDs and gave away over six thousand copies to wounded warriors and their families. Surrick also penned Between War and Here, a book of poetry about her time at Walter Reed, and has given away over a thousand copies of the book to veterans. Her latest book, The Last Day, was published in December of 2019. She is a collaborator at heart and was thrilled when the opportunity arose to create this project with Ronn. She lives outside of Annapolis, Maryland with her extended family, in a house built from a hand-hewn barn, made of American Chestnut.

Surrick’s viola da gamba was built by Marc Soubeyran in 1995, her strings were made by Damian Dlugolecki in 2021, and her bow is by Harry Grabenstein. She credits the instrument, strings, and bow with the extraordinary resonance heard on this recording.

Since taking up the lute in 1978, Ronn McFarlane has made his mark as a soloist, the founder of Ayreheart, and a founding member of the Baltimore Consort, touring 49 of the 50 United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. He has also performed as a guest artist with Apollo’s Fire, The Bach Sinfonia, The Catacoustic Consort, The Folger Consort, Houston Grand Opera, The Oregon Symphony, The Portland Baroque Orchestra, and The Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra.

McFarlane was on the faculty at the Peabody Conservatory from 1984 to 1995, teaching lute and lute-related subjects. In 1996, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from Shenandoah Conservatory for his achievements in bringing the lute and its music to the world. He has over 40 recordings on the Dorian/Sono Luminus label, including solo albums, lute duets, flute & lute duets, lute songs, the complete lute music of Vivaldi, a collection of Elizabethan lute music and poetry, and recordings with the Baltimore Consort.

McFarlane has composed new music for the lute, building on the tradition of the lutenists/composers of past centuries. His original compositions are the focus of his solo CD, Indigo Road, which received a GRAMMY Award Nomination for Best Classical Crossover Album of 2009.

On this recording, McFarlane is playing a 10-course lute by Travis Carey, Vancouver, BC, Canada (2016) and an 11-course lute by Andrew Rutherford, New York (1991), converted to a 13-course lute by David Brown, Baltimore, MD in 2012.

A Star in the East

Carolyn Surrick, viola da gamba & Ronn McFarlane, lute

Release date: October 15, 2021

Track list:

1. A Star in the East by Ronn McFarlane

2. Wondrous Love from Southern Harnony

Walking in the Air by Howard Blake, arr. Ronn McFarlane

3. Early Christmas Morning by Ronn McFarlane


4. Mizzie Mine by Carolyn Surrick

5. Personant Hodie from Piae Cantiones (1582)

Grinch on the Run by Ronn McFarlane

6. Carol of the Bells by Mykola Leontovych (1914), arr. Ronn McFarlane

7. Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light by J.S. Bach (1734), arr. Carolyn Surrick

8. Sure on this Shining Night by Samuel Barber, op.33, no.13 (1938)

9. Lully Lullay by Robert Croo (1534)

10. O Come, O Come Emmanuel -15th Century French

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly - Traditional Polish

I Saw Three Ships - 17th Century English

11. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (1943), arr. Ronn McFarlane

12. The Wexford Carol - Traditional Irish, arr. Ronn McFarlane

13. Greensleeves - Traditional English

14. Good King Wenceslas from Piae Cantiones (1582)

Producer: Dan Merceruio

Engineer: Brian Doser

Recorded at WBEZ Chicago

Flowerpot Productions LLC

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