In Focus: Ashley Lancaster

“Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

On April 30, 2016, I recorded my very first song on a singing app called Smule. It was “The Sound of Music,” which was fitting, because I adore both Julie Andrews and most everything that the great team of Rogers and Hammerstein ever wrote into existence. I continued to find myself making recordings: “On My Own,” “The Second Star to the Right,” “Journey to the Past.” If I thought of a song that I loved, I pulled out my phone and simply sang it, just because it brought me joy to do it.

Not long after my inaugural experiments, I noticed that someone left a comment on one of my recordings, telling a man named Paul that he should give it a listen. Little did I know that “Paul” was Paul Gorgonio, who founded a premier virtual choir called “APEX Team” . . .and he was asking me to be a member!

Full disclosure: I had no idea that singing groups existed on Smule (I found out later how well-respected APEX was). I had no idea where the microphone on my headphones was located (this is completely true and Paul had no earthly idea that he was getting a Smule illiterate when he asked me to be part of this group. I’m sorry, Paul!). I had no idea that people from around the world could somehow create music together on a broader, more organized scale. And I especially had no idea that APEX Team would become one of my most treasured experiences.

Before I knew it, I was thrown into the well-oiled machine that is APEX. Printing scores, following guidance in project rooms, figuring out layers and “silent joins” (I didn’t figure those out until fairly recently, actually . . . still a sensitive topic of insecurity for me, but maybe the group can sponsor my therapy sessions for that). My first project as an Apexian was John Legend’s “All of Me” and I wish I could provide you footage of my face as I recorded that very first layer (think of a first-time skier being thrown down a Black Diamond slope or someone who is afraid of water being told to join Michael Phelps for a swim and you’ll be on the right track). However scared or nervous I was during the process, I was hooked! I was so proud to listen to the final product and couldn’t believe I had contributed to it.

While I enjoyed the musical aspect of being in APEX, I didn’t take the opportunity to really get to know the other members at first. I was shy and knew they possessed a musical prowess that intimidated me. As the months passed, I gave birth to our 4th child and spent months away from APEX. They were kind and supportive, even though they didn’t know me beyond a surface level. What my team members didn’t know is that I was going through a very difficult season of postpartum depression. I was sad, overwhelmed and struggling.

After seeking professional help and starting to get back on track with the love and support of my family, I saw that there was a sign-up for a Disney-themed piece of music that I just couldn’t pass up. With some trepidation, I committed and joined the project team.

I expected to enjoy making music again and I expected to feel a renewed love of creating a choral piece. But what moved me beyond words was the overwhelming amount of kindness, excitement and encouragement I received when I stepped back into the group. As I got to know my team members (truly for the first time), I realized how each of them bring such a unique gift to APEX; not only with their voices, but with their hearts.

Now known as the resident pseudo-psychologist and personality-assessor of the team (some might give me titles more along the lines of “serial question-asker” or “incessant analyzer to the point of annoyance” but those don’t sound as flattering), I LOVE the different voices – musical and otherwise – that shape who we are as a musical family. These people have celebrated with me in happy moments and stood by me in deeply sad moments (such as when I lost my 5thchild only months ago – the amount of love I was shown is beyond what I am able to express). I am honored to do the same for them; they are dear friends.

Music connects us. It is in our nature to be moved and affected by hearing notes, melodies, harmonies and rhythms. But music is not made out of nothing; there has to be a personwith a soulcreating it. Instruments do not play and voices do not vocalize apart from human hands and hearts. APEX is music, to be sure, but it is more importantly people. When you hear us sing, you hear us connecting as human beings – crossing countries, cultures and languages. We sing purely for the joy of joining our voices together in friendship, and for that I am deeply thankful and richly blessed!

Ashley Anderson Lancaster

Smule ID: Ashley_APEX

Soprano (Missouri, United States)

Ashley while rehearsing for an APEX project

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