Her Only Light: The Songs of Connie Converse

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$8,523 raised of $5,000 goal
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Funded on September 15, 2022
    • 170% contributed

I am arranging music by the late composer Connie Converse, who wrote brilliant folk and art songs between 1945-1961 and whose work was almost entirely uncelebrated in her lifetime. Together with vocalist Emmy Bean and instrumentalists from the 5th Wave Collective, I will produce a program of Connie’s songs for performance in the spring of 2023. The program will include my new arrangements of Connie’s piano songs, which will be set for a small chamber ensemble of strings and winds.

About This Project

Her Only Light is devoted to the work of Connie Converse, a composer and songwriter whose remarkable music is as relevant to our own time as it was ahead of its own. Her voice as a songwriter, composer, and a singer—wry, literate, and tinged with a profound lonelinessis singular, but oddly familiar, and her life became a narrative to which this music is uniquely suited. As an artist, she struggled for years in obscurity, working at desk jobs by day and seeking recognition for her music in New York City until she decamped to the safe haven of Ann Arbor, Michigan to find solace among family and friends. In August of 1974, shortly after her fiftieth birthday, she wrote letters of goodbye to each of her loved ones and drove away. She has not been heard from since. 

I am overjoyed to be working with vocalist and interdisciplinary artist Emmy Bean, who brings to our collaboration not only her gorgeous voice, but her unique sensibility and musicality, and her extensive skill as an interpreter of contemporary classical and experimental folk music. This project also benefits from Emmy's perspective as an interdisciplinary artist in theater and performance, and will incorporate visual and theatrical storytelling elements.

I’ve enlisted the instruments that I most want to hear in company with Emmy’s voice: a string quartet, a harp, and a pair of clarinets. It’s been such an enjoyable riddle to solve: expanding upon the ideas in Connie’s instrumental accompaniments, responding to her vocal melodies, finding new ways to illustrate the images depicted by her lyrics, underscoring moments of danger, stillness, or transcendent beauty with the various colors that this ensemble can produce.

Connie Converse’s music, to those who hear it and love it, appears as a kind of distant call of recognition. We are grateful to Howard Fishman and Dan Dzula in particular, who have championed her music before us, producing and distributing recordings of her folk songs and art songs. Without their work, we would not have heard Connie’s voice or been inspired to interpret and perform her music.

Our aim is to connect Connie’s music with the audiences she always deserved but never got to enjoy in her lifetime—and in particular to lift up her last surviving work, the Cassandra Cycle, which makes space for a unique shared experience of reverence, prophecy, and grief. Along with the members of the 5th Wave Collective, who will include this performance in their 2022-23 season, we aim to create an encounter between musicians and audience that makes possible a new view into the world that Connie Converse saw beyond her own. We like to think that she would be tickled by the idea of her work being re-imagined in this way and given new life.

Your donation will go towards compensating the brilliant musicians who are helping us bring these songs to life, and paying for rehearsal space and production costs associated with mounting the performance, which is planned for the spring of 2023.

Thank yous

Contribute any amount or choose from the levels below.

  • $10
    Your name acknowledged in the program notes for the performance and our eternal gratitude ($10.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $25
    Above, plus a beautifully-printed postcard featuring original artwork by Lizi Breit ($25.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $50
    Above, plus your name sung in a musical ode ($25.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $100
    Above, plus 2 tickets to the spring 2023 performance ($50.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $250
    Above, plus an invitation to an open rehearsal before the performance and tea afterwards ($150.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $500
    Above, plus a serenade performance by Escargatoire (Ronnie and Emmy’s band) ($100.00 is tax deductible.)

Ronnie Kuller

Ronnie Kuller is a Chicago-based composer, arranger, pianist, and accordionist. Some highlights of her musical career: playing accordion onstage with the Joffrey Ballet, collaborating with the Chicago Sinfonietta, and performing regularly as the piano accompanist for Mister Tom Musick. She …

View Ronnie Kuller's profile
  • Update 1: 3Arts Match Received!
    Posted on August 08, 2022
     I think this is Juniper Haircap Moss. Apparently very common but I love the way it looks, like a tiny evergreen forest.


    I think this is Juniper Haircap Moss. Apparently very common but I love the way it looks, like a tiny evergreen forest.

    We are thrilled to report that today we received our 3Arts match! This means we’ve achieved almost ¾ of our goal. It means the world to me and Emmy to have this vote of confidence from our community.


    We are both in the wilderness this week: Emmy's in Wisconsin, and I’m in Georgia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The natural world was a major source of inspiration for Connie, and we are both thinking of her as we walk in separate forests, 48 years after her disappearance. We are grateful for the gifts she left us and for the opportunity to delve into this gorgeous material together.


    Thank you so much for your support as we work on bringing this project to life!


    -Emmy and Ronnie

    Update 2: The Art of Disappearance
    Posted on August 18, 2022


    Photo illustration by Itchi. Source photograph: Courtesy of the estate of Elizabeth Eaton Converse.

    Dear friends and family,

    The following is from my wonderful co-conspirator, Emmy Bean (who, unrelated to this piece of writing, is celebrating her birthday this weekend).

    While on my way home from vacation this weekend, I started getting pings on my phone: “Aren’t you working on a Connie Converse project?” “READ THIS.” And so in case you, dear reader, haven’t seen it yet, Hanif Abdurraqib’s essay “The Art of Disappearance” ran in this past weekend’s NY Times magazine. It’s a gentle and deeply felt meditation on Connie’s music, the nature of sadness and the desire to leave, as Connie did, to be let go of, and escape the suffering of the known world. There are many reasons to love Hanif Abdurraqib’s writing (his own poetry, essays about music, and his book Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest especially), but this essay of course tops the list for me. I continue to be awed and amazed by the number and variety of people who are united by their relationship to Connie’s songs. I also feel very closely aligned with his ideas about sadness and longing, and that Connie’s songs were never merely sad, they were full of play, full of humor and color and wisdom and deep feeling. Just as our deepest sadnesses are often not just sadness, they are experiences of intense feeling, multicolored and vibrant, meant to be shared. But how? Connie’s songs are an answer to this question, now and always. Thank you, Hanif Abdurraqib, for your witness to this. 


    In more mundane news, our fundraising campaign has nearly reached its goal! We are so grateful to all of our friends and loved ones who have contributed so far. If we are lucky enough to surpass our goal, any additional funds will be set aside for the purposes of making a recording down the line of these new versions of Connie's gorgeous songs.
    Thank you, as ever, for your support!
    Update 3: Constellation 5/19/23
    Posted on May 09, 2023
     An image of a spiderweb, surrrounded by flowers, with dewdrops on the web spelling out Her Only Light and the information about the May 19th performance.

    Artwork by Lizi Breit  

    Her Only Light: Songs of Connie Converse, arranged and rearranged by Ronnie Kuller, performed by Emmy Bean and musicians of 5th Wave Collective, at Constellation, 5/19/23

    Dear 3AP supporters of Her Only Light,

    Many of you should have received this information in various other forms by now, but now here it is on our project page to close the circle: the first public performance of our work-in-progress will take place at Constellation on May 19th, 2023, and we couldn't be more excited.

    It's been a real education for me diving deep into these songs and trying to figure out how to adapt them for this unusual and oh-so-dreamy instrumentation of strings, clarinets, and harp. There are times when I feel like I'm really getting to know Connie's musical thinking in working on these pieces, and there are times when it feels like I'm still just scratching the surface - but that's one reason why it's a work-in-progress showing. The musicians have been such a joy to work with and they're sounding incredible in rehearsal, and Emmy's singing is - well, I'll try not to embarass her, I'll just say that wanting to hear her sing these songs is the reason I started working on this whole project, and it was reason enough.

    We hope you can join us, either here or from afar (livestream information is at that ticket link below, and will be viewable after the event has passed if you're in a different time zone) and please tell your friends, as we would love to share this work as widely as possible with people who might enjoy it. 

    We will have a limited number of these gorgeous posters by Lizi Breit available at the show.

    Tickets & livestream info here: https://wl.seetickets.us/event/Songs-ofConnieConverse-BeanKuller5thWavewSaraCoral/541767?afflky=ConstellationChicago

    FB event here: https://fb.me/e/yZGZ2Xfe

    Thank you so much for believing in this project, we never would have made it to this point without your support.



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make it work


3AP Presenting Partner:

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 Additional support provided by: 

Department of Cultural Affairs logo  Illinois Arts Council