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Conspirare’s ‘Hidden Music’ swells the heart at Hotel van Zandt

Michael Barnes
Craig Hella Johnson speaks during the Texas Medal of Arts Awards at the Long Center. [Suzanne Cordeiro for AUSTIN360]

Delicately, “Hidden Music” weaves together the secular and the sacred.

This benefit for Conspirare, Austin’s top choir and recent winner of the Texas Medal of Arts, followed several ancient rituals at the Hotel Van Zandt.

The recitation of the names of the people who helped. The illumination of images from the past 25 years of this internationally recognized choir that memorably started out as the New Texas Festival. The breaking of the bread and pouring of the wine and the signs of peace around the table.

To my left was a prominent women in her mid-70s who has seen every Marvel movie except the current one and she’s trying hard to see that. Turns out we share some Houston acquaintances from half a century ago. To my right was a retired architecture historian and friend who, with his husband, has been sampling the short-term leases one can obtain at a discount from the U.K.’s National Heritage Trust, including some design marvels.

Then came the music. The soul-piercing songs, including selections from "Considering Matthew Shepard," rendered with ethereal clarity by Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson, at times backed by eight singers from the group’s Company of Voices.

All the while, Johnson’s calming voice, elucidating intellect and swelling heart drew everyone in the packed house to his purpose. Few Austinites can hold a stage like Johnson.

"Hidden Music" is kind of like "Conspirare Christmas," but on a smaller scale and with a secondary fundraising purpose.

It started out as a very intimate event, but now the music is no longer hidden, without losing an iota of its potency.