It’s early Saturday morning in the cozy, four-bedroom cabin and Laura Tjaden, a founding member of the Christmas vocal group, “Anjelic,” awakens to a dark blue haze over a peaceful, snow-covered lake, anxious to begin work on harmonies and lyrics.
Beth Boyens, an Augustana English professor, dressed like the rest of the group (in what the women refer to as their “stretchy pants”), joins Tjaden and the other members of Anjelic for coffee hour in a kitchen stocked with cheese, crackers and enough chocolate to keep six women satisfied for a weekend.
Boyens said she has sung with Anjelic for 18 years because of a deep connection both to her friends and Christmas music.
“I think we sing together so well because we know each other so well,” Boyens said. “I truly believe it’s because we’re friends and we’re connected.”
Anjelic will be releasing its seventh album “Where’s the Love?” at its annual concert set at The District on Dec. 8.
At Anjelic’s yearly cabin trip, Annie Terveen, the youngest and newest member of the group, cracks up the ladies with her dry humor as they chat over coffee for two hours before indulging in Tjaden’s homemade Montecristo sliders.
“I laugh until my tummy hurts and laugh until water is squirting out of my eyes,” Tjaden said.
With Tjaden at the silver, electric keyboard, the women sit around the table working on original songs and arrangements. As they sing, Tjaden, the group’s composer, says “That’s it! That’s what I heard in my head!”
After singing for several hours, the women stop to play a game of charades. Laughter fills the room yet again as Mollie Jo VanMeeteren, the bookkeeper and manager for the group, tries to guess the word from the iPhone held to her forehead while Beth Mielke gives as many hints as she can imagine.
“There’s so many things that this group is that aren’t even really about the singing, but about a connection to a group of women that you can count on,” Tjaden said.
Boyens agreed. “There’s something about sort of riding on that breath of friendship,” Boyens said. “[the] living and breathing together that comes out in the music.”
Cara Pliska, another founding member of Anjelic (who has “the voice of an angel,” according to Boyens), first invited Boyens to the group 18 years ago.
Tjaden said Boyens fits the group perfectly. “She has this high, clear soprano voice, hitting notes that I could never hope to reach,” Tjaden said.
Tjaden said Boyens has a calming presence that is vital to the group because she can help it work through any issue without becoming frustrated.
“Anything that comes out of Beth’s mouth you know is absolutely worth leaning in and listening to,” Tjaden said. “She doesn’t speak just to hear herself speak. Everything she says has a purpose, and everything she says takes whatever situation we are in and makes it better.”
Boyens had a special hand in creating one song, “What Will You Find?” for Anjelic’s new album.
Shortly after Christmas last year, Boyens said Tjaden told her she had an idea for the first line of a twinkly ballad: “What will you find beneath the star?”
“I’m usually happy to be a part of that because I’m just so in awe of [Tjaden’s] ability to write music,” Boyens said. “Any small part that I can play in that writing process is really fun for me.”
From there, Boyens said she scribbled down lyrics pointing to not only what is found beneath the star and the places people are spiritually called to, effectively capturing the small moments of Christmas night.
“I can’t speak highly enough of her ability to write and the imagery she uses in her writing,” Tjaden said. “As I’m listening to this song, I can completely visualize or imagine each verse as it is happening.”
Anjelic’s newest album, “Where’s The Love?” was inspired by the Las Vegas shooting and the idea of being at a musical event that falls to pieces, according to Tjaden. She said the album has a darker, quiet mood to start, but ends in an inspirational, uplifting tone.
Boyens said Anjelic’s albums are usually a 12-song balance between popular Christmas songs and originals with an even number of upbeat and emotional songs.
Angelic will perform “Where’s The Love?” at The District on Dec. 8. A portion of the proceeds from album sales will benefit Breathe Bravely, an organization started by Augustana Alumna Ashley Ballou-Bonnema to support those with cystic fibrosis.
“It’s not just a group about coming together and singing,” Tjaden said, “it is a group about making change.”