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What We Can Learn From Listening with our Youth & Children

Listening to a Chorus Supporting the Collective Voices of Girls

San Francisco Girls Chorus, Dreaming Horizons

Happy Holidays! Wishing you a Joyful and Peaceful Holiday!

I enjoyed so much listening to SFGC rehearse and perform this beautiful classic during their December Davies Concert.

Shchedryk, Carol the Bells, sung by SF Girls Chorus

Video of Tech Rehearsal with Artistic Director and Conductor Valerie Agathe conducting the San Francisco Girls Chorus Premiere Ensemble in Shchedryk, Carol the Bells in Ukrainian, 12.6.22, Anthony Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco CA. Choral photo below by Rachel Ziegler.

One amazing thing about creating music for a girls chorus, is listening to their power when in unity with so many voices existing together simultaneously. It is as if I am listening to a miniature city of girls voices as children and as youth. It is a group and a society, with a capacity to be together and sing, breath create rhythm and tone together and also apart. I can hear the leadership through conducting and training and also their need to have self agency in each moment. I hear the request and ability for the chorus to move and breath together and also know when to pair with their section and when to step out for a soloistic moment. They are young and they are learning the incredible power of their voices.The girls in the chorus have studied and trained in musical skills to deliver in the moment and support a community of collective voices, to perform exceptional artistry. This is the kind of amazing experience I have when I listen to the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

I received a call from the wonderful Artistic Director and Conductor Valerie Agathe of the San Francisco Girls Chorus in the end of 2019. I was so excited and honored for this. She invited me to be Composer in Residence for 2020-2021 with the San Francisco Girls Chorus and was asking if I could write a rhythmic piece for the girls to learn and sing. We spoke about coming to the school of SFGC and working with each of the levels of the chorus. For this dynamic chorus, I wanted to compose a piece that spoke to both the beauty and power of their voices, girls voices, with lyric that was relevant currently to them and also had a timeless an eternal side. A nostalgia of something known with a relevant shift and change musically and lyrically.

Shortly after, as we each experienced, Covid 19 arrived and officially was spreading in the US in end of February 2020. As you can imagine this proved to be difficult and impossible to be in person with a choir or chorus let along a girls chorus. We would need to begin to work from video which would limit the scope of the work, but would allow introduction of rhythms and introduction of musical phrasing. Also challenging to write an uplifting piece that sings about the issues of the day -in rhythm! We completed a work in progress piece for a concert that was screened at a drive in cinema at Fort Mason in California with the first movement of the chorus lyric by Tracie Morris. Valerie and I decided to wait til it was possible for us to all be in person and perform a complete version of the piece live. We decided I would write a second movement to tie the full piece together with lyric by Laren McClung, and the piece became Dreaming Horizons. Two movements, one that marches and dances and one that rolls in waves of harmony and rhythm. Movement 1,The Future is Bright, and Movement 2,Tomorrow is Now, create Dreaming Horizons.

After 3 years of the San Francisco Girls Chorus being away from their annual December concert at Anthony Davies Symphony Hall, this December 2022 was their return to perform. I was so honored to have my work as a world premiere for this returning concert of the chorus. SFGC’s Premiere Ensemble had learned the music and we invited in two percussionists, Andy Meyerson and Eric Whitmer to join me as a percussion trio for Dreaming Horizons. They performed the work beautifully articulating well the lyrics, and finding movement to words as well as emphatic drama to spoken words, with lyric and song first marching in beat and then rolling in waves of rhythms.

It was really a pleasure to listen to the chorus and hear the entire program through tech and performance. Valerie Agathe had programmed excerpts from The Journey of Harriet Tubman by Ron Kean along with several Black American Spirituals with soloist vocalist Christabel Nunoo singing including Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, before my piece. On the other side following Dreaming Horizons was Shchedryk, Carol the Bells, in Ukrainian sung with one of the chorister’s soloists who is Russian.

I listened, rehearsed & listened, performed & listened, and listened some more. I thought the programming of the music worked well and was powerful. Creating a piece that rises out of the beauty and power of the girls hope and conviction, while following songs of struggle and slavery and preceding a song that is sung during our reality of war- how does it sound and what do you hear when you listen to this?

As I listened to SFGirls Chorus sing, I heard many things. I heard their resilience and their angelic beauty in the collective voices. I heard conviction sung in some of the words and other times enchanting music that is carry lyrics that are meaningful yet exist parallel and perhaps are older than the hall. A community and city of girls voices singing layers and layers messages and context.

I read a quote this morning that I was able to really take in " Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is the dynamic of harmonizing good." Michael Beckwith. This quote resonates when I also think of the power in these collective voices of the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

I think it is very powerful to listen to significant and serious messages as either sung or spoken by children. When I listen to children sing serious lyric, it’s a reminder of the past and a check in for the present and the future. Led by Valerie Agathe and the SFGC Choral Staff, these young girls are finding their voices, learning how to use them through the practice of being in a chorus, and singing out with excellence. - Susie Ibarra


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