While most of Vassar’s clubs, organizations and groups have kept within the confines of campus grounds since their formations, Vassar Women’s Chorus makes its mark on the greater music world by touring both nationally and worldwide. Vassar’s Women’s Chorus—known to many as WoCo—recently returned from this past weekend’s performance in Baltimore at the American Choral Directors Association’s Regional Conference. WoCo was specifically requested to perform by the American Choral Directors Association, an invitation that the group was honored to receive.
Besides being one of the largest campus groups, the Women’s Chorus is one of the oldest. WoCo was founded in 1876 by Charlotte Finch, Class of 1872. Since its founding, the group has achieved much success and has been recognized outside of the Vassar sphere. Women’s Chorus performs at various on and off-campus events. On campus, WoCo holds annual performances, which includes singing at convocation. Outside of Vassar’s gates, the choir toured many countries, including Italy, Germany, Turkey, Spain, England and France. The Women’s Chorus has achieved recognition from important organizations such as the American Choral Directors Association and the National Collegiate Choral Organization. In recognition of Vassar’s Sesquicentennial Celebrations, the choir recently toured 17 U.S. cities and gave concerts in esteemed venues such as Lincoln Center, meeting alumnae from across the nation while on their tour.
WoCo’s recent performance in Baltimore on Feb. 5-8 was particularly exciting for its members. Christine Howlett, the director of the Women’s Chorus and Assistant Professor of Music at Vassar, wrote in an emailed statement, “The Women’s Chorus has had great success in being chosen to perform at the American Choral Directors Association’s regional conferences…[The] invitation is a huge honor for the Chorus and for Vassar, and shows the high quality of our ensembles in the Music Department.”
Emily Omrod ’16 described the trip and wrote, “We were invited to the ACDA this past summer and asked to the prestigious Brock commission, a piece based on Emily Dickinson poems by Alice Parker.”
Many members appreciated the Baltimore trip as a means by which to improve their musical talent and performance skill. “Going to Baltimore was a good experience for the choir,” stated WoCo member Aja Saalfeld ’15 in an emailed statement. “We had the opportunity to premiere a set of Dickinson poems set to music, so that was one part that was something to be proud of. In addition to premiering that piece, we had the entire program set to memory as per the unspoken rule of the festival.”
Saalfeld continued, “Normally we have programs that are quite long, and memorization is not a key part of our process, but we stepped it up and had our program memorized. Since it’s been years since I last had to memorize large amounts of choral music, it was definitely a learning experience, and one for which I am grateful.”
Saalfeld also appreciated how performing in Baltimore required the group to amp up their practicing and concentration. He explained, “It also gave us an opportunity to hone some of the pieces that were good at our concert last semester, but with more time became great, notably the David Lang piece, ‘I Live In Pain.’ It’s a difficult, technical piece to do with music, let alone memorized, but I, for one, am glad that we got to have more time with it.”
Aside from the technical attributes the trip afforded the group, going to Baltimore further united members of the already tight-knit WoCo. Stephanie Goldberg ’14, a choir member since her first year at Vassar, wrote in an emailed statement, “I have been a singer with the chorus, specifically a soprano II, since my first semester at Vassar. The members of the chorus get along very well, within “sections” (Sopranos, Altos) and as a group. Some of my closest friends, including one of my best friends, I met through the Women’s Chorus. The chorus meets three times a week to rehearse for about an hour and a half.”
Though the choir continues to gain new members, WoCo members pride themselves on being incredibly close. “Women’s Chorus has grown a bit in size over the last few years, as more wonderful singers have come out to audition,” stated Goldberg. “Over the last four years, I’ve seen the group, as a whole, grow closer, something I appreciate. Growing closer, in my opinion, has strengthened our blending with one another during performances.”
The success of the choir can be attributed to both the talent of the students and director and also the group’s commitment to choir. Director Howlett spends time and effort choosing the repertoire, running rehearsals, and organizing concerts and logistics. She is grateful for the help of student chorus members. Omrod, for instance, is the WoCo librarian, which means she organizes events and makes travel arrangements. “I have student leaders who help me as accompanists, librarians, and tour managers,” said Director Howlett. “Having student liaisons is critically important for communication between myself and the students. Without having that student leadership, it would be impossible for me to organize the travel on my own.”
The group’s unity is widespread and spans across student-staff lines. Director Howlett stated, “I think I get along really well with the students. We have a lot of fun in rehearsals, but we also work very hard. The students are incredibly smart and supportive, and they all love to sing great repertoire. It doesn’t get that much better for me!”
This spring, the chorus will continue its successful journey by traveling to Tokyo for a special collaboration sponsored by Ashinaga, a Japanese organization that helps orphans worldwide. They will be joined by a troupe from Uganda for their performance. Japan will add to the selection of countries in which Women’s Chorus had been invited to perform.