Friday, April 9, 2010
Concord Women’s Chorus: 50 years of glorious music
Fifty years ago a group of women from the Carlisle and Concord area wanted to sing. Starting with just five members, they gathered in each other’s homes on Tuesday mornings to share music. Fifty years later the Concord Women’s Chorus is 70 voices strong and celebrating their anniversary season with a special gala concert, American Women of Note, at the First Parish Church in Concord, Massachusetts, on May 8.
The concert features music written by American women for women and includes the world premiere of Libby Larsen’s Concord Fragments, a Concord-based piece which was commissioned by the chorus. To add to the excitement the group has been invited to perform in England in June. They will spend ten days touring and performing from London to Bath.
Composer Libby Larsen to participate in pre-concert lecture
The May 8 concert will feature pieces such as Amy Beach’s Three Shakespeare Songs, Alice Parker’s Three Seas, Gwyneth Walker’s Crossing the Bar and Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Breaths. The centerpiece of the concert is Larsen’s Concord Fragments, which sets to music three poems that represent Concord women at varying stages of life, including a poem about Walden Pond and the maturity of women written by poet, Concord resident and chorus member Melissa Apperson. The audience is invited to join Larsen and Artistic Director Jane Ring Frank and Apperson in a Pre-Concert Lecture at 7 p.m. in the Chapel of First Parish Church in Concord. Frank said she envisions the lecture as a conversation “about the process of making Ms. Larsen’s vision come to life.”
Rehearsals were always on Tuesday mornings
The group has had a long journey from singing in kitchens and living rooms in 1960 to the world stage. First named “The Concord Madrigals” in 1960 for the type of music they loved to sing, they were members of the Concord Music Club, a community group dedicated to sharing instrumental music in the evenings. Carlisle’s Wendy Davis joined the women’s chorus in 1961, a year after its start. She said she enjoyed singing and was excited to hear about the small chorus. “We met during the day” to rehearse, she said, gathering in Lincoln or Concord, some mothers bringing their children.
Although they loved the intertwining harmonies of madrigals, after the first year or so the repertoire quickly expanded to include music from all periods, explained founding member and Concord resident Lydia Lauderdale. The chorus grew in size, said Davis. “We made announcements and by word of mouth we quickly grew to 18 or 20 in no time at all. It was fun,” she added. Lauderdale said rehearsals were “always on Tuesday mornings,” and they still are today. Davis said she was a teacher at the time but was always able save Tuesday mornings for rehearsals. Many of the current members do the same today.
Chorus is dedicated to music and joy
From 1960 to 1994 the chorus had six conductors: Mary Loud, Margo Euler, Susan Dill, Barbara Geisinger, Mary Beekman and Johanna (Jody) Hill Simpson. Frank, the current artistic director, has been with the group through its exponential growth, from 18 members in 1992, 40 members in 2000, to 70 members today. “I had the privilege of filling in for Jody in 1991,” explained Frank when asked how she came to be the conductor. When Jody left the group in 1992 the chorus asked her to step in as artistic director. “I love working with the group and I appreciate their dedication to music, their sense of community and joy.” Frank is also the Artistic Director and Founder of Boston Secession, a Resident Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, and Minister of Music at the First Congregational Church in Winchester.
Carlisle members old and new
Through the years there have been many Carlisle members, including Nancy Nichols, Jane Engquist, Pamela Lugg, Mechthild Churchill, Bea Shneider, Joyce Webster, Lee Milliken, Carol Furneaux, Priscilla Stevens, Cynthia Sorn, Dianne Wesselhoeft and Penny Zezima. Cynthia Nunan joined in 2003 after hearing the group in concert. “My mother and I went to the spring concert,” she explained. “I was very impressed by the quality of the singing.” Carlisle resident Stephanie Smith was nervous about joining. “I had seen the notices of open rehearsals in the paper but still it took me about a year to get up the courage to audition.” Nunan credits Frank as her reason for joining. “It was really watching Jane that convinced me to join. She’s a great conductor. I’ve been in many, many choruses. She is far above the other conductors.” She said the rehearsals fit in perfectly with her schedule. “If they were at night I wouldn’t have done it since my kids are still in school.” Smith agrees. “I work part time,” she said, “so theoretically, Tuesday mornings fit into my schedule. The real truth is that, particularly in the beginning, it was hard to protect the time … but both the music and the camaraderie grew to mean more and more to me – and now I protect that Tuesday morning slot much more fiercely.”
Large size a “wonderful problem”
Asked how she would describe the Concord Women’s Chorus, Frank said, “It is a community chorus first and foremost, and I mean that in the best way. Many of the women come from college and church choirs and other singing backgrounds. They come together to sing incredibly challenging repertoire with grace and determination and will.” She stressed the community nature of the group. “It’s a large and vibrant community… from day one to now its unwavering hold to this [sense of community] … allows the group to thrive musically, hopefully in a safe container of love, community, and joy of being with one another.”
Frank described the growth of the group as “a wonderful problem. However, finding a space large enough [to rehearse] is a challenge,” she added. “I love to see the energy and vibrancy that come” with the current size of the group. “The growth that this group is experiencing, at a time when the arts are flailing: this group is riding a wave of momentum and I feel privileged to be a part of that.”
Concert reflects the ages and stages of women’s lives
Frank said women’s choruses have often been “at the fringe of the concert hall.” By including a strong and substantial repertoire in the May 8 concert, “we are not doing the expected angels and fairies music – far from it.” It will feature “the best of women composers,” she explained. “Over the years I have highlighted female composers, not as a formal part of a mission but to provide them with a platform to be performed.”
The program is a reflection on the archetypical stages of women’s lives, she added: from youth in Rebecca Clark’s Ave Maria, to middle age in Beth Denisch’s Facial (“Remember all the hands that loved your skin…”) to the maturity reflected in the third movement of Concord Fragments. “These pieces not only represent good works in terms of music… but also how women perceive the world.” She added, “I have hope for women’s choruses and there are some very strong ones emerging in this country.” When asked if there is a chorus similar to Concord Women’s Chorus in the New England area she replied, “No. There are some small groups, but nothing similar to this chorus.”
Community support, outreach
The chorus has a long history of community involvement, said Concord resident and chorus president Patsy Eickelberg. In addition to their December and May concerts, the chorus has performed in Wayland at the benefit for Parmenter’s Wayside Hospice program. “We’re so grateful for the support of the community,” said Eickelberg. “It’s not possible to put into words how much this community has meant to the chorus.”
She said the chorus places an emphasis on supporting women, especially those who are under-represented. The group is donating concert tickets to the Concord Minute Man Arc, an agency that offers support programs to children, adults and their families. During the May concert week the chorus has invited the fifth graders from the Nashoba Brooks School to watch their Thursday morning dress rehearsal along with composer Larsen. Eickelberg explained, “Educational outreach is also one of our goals.” The students will be treated to lunch and will join the chorus in a conversation with Larsen. This fall the chorus will be joining the community in celebrating the town of Concord’s 375th anniversary with a performance of Louisa’s War with the Concord Orchestra on October 15 and 16. “We’re honored and excited,” said Eickelberg, to be participating in the concert. The chorus has received grants in support of their 50th year, including the Alfred Nash Patterson Grant from Choral Arts New England, and grants from local Cultural Councils including Carlisle, Concord, Acton-Boxboro, Wayland and Lincoln.
New singers welcome
The chorus holds two open rehearsals in September, and singers are welcome to try out the chorus before auditioning. “What the group is looking for” in a singer, explained Frank, “is someone who wants to be with a large group, who has a clear tone, a nice sense of intonation and previous participation in choral arts.” For more information, including ordering tickets please see www.concordwomenschorus.org. ∆
American Women of Note
© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito