Celebrating women composers in choral music

by Molly Kohler Pei, Channel Islands Choral Association

Channel Islands Choral Association (CICA) presents a Virtual Choral experience, streaming On Demand from December 11th – 20th. Into the Light: Celebrating Women Composers in Choral Music features the CSU Channel Islands University Chorus and the Pleasant Valley School District Chorus. CICA Artistic Director Dr. KuanFen Liu and President Dean Butler are hosts.

Dr. Liu chose the theme to bring awareness to underrepresentation of women composers past and present in concert programming. The program showcases the works of contemporary women composers Betty Nicholson, Dale Trumbore, Dr. Andrea Ramsey, Sarah Quartel and Elizabeth Alexander. Interviews with Dale Trumbore and Dr. Ramsey highlight the challenges each have faced in the competitive field of choral music.

Virtual Choirs, once a novelty, are now mainstream. For the first time since its inception in 2004, CICA has combined the winter concerts of its two sponsored choruses into a Virtual Choir event. COVID-19 has forced the closure of concert venues and challenged music organizations to seek new ways to engage with their audiences. Scholastic Choral Arts programs are compromised by the inability to meet and rehearse in person.

As the sponsor of the CSU Channel Islands University Chorus and the PVSD Chorus, CICA was determined to find a way for these important programs to thrive despite the difficulties of online instruction and rehearsal. Using funds from donors and a grant from CSUCI Instructionally Related Activities, CICA created the Dr. Archie Shum Virtual Choir Room. This innovative virtual space allows members of both choruses to enjoy a new experience of socially distanced singing and rehearsal.

Rehearsing a full program of music for the Virtual Choirs was challenging but ultimately a success. “We navigated the new virtual landscape with technological challenges,” Dr. Liu said, “such as varying internet bandwidths that caused lapses in synchronicity.” Weekly Zoom rehearsals with the Music Directors and Choral Assistants offered guidance and support. CICA provided extensive materials for singers to practice at home and prepare for their contribution to the Virtual Choir. A community circle at the end of each rehearsal offered an opportunity for singers to share their insights, struggles and stories of living with the new realities created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Virtual Choir performances are mastered by Arts Laureate, an elite recording team that sets up virtual performances for groups such as the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and NPR’s JazzSet at the Kennedy Center.

The Museum of Ventura County provides its beautiful venue, the Smith Pavilion, showcasing artwork of Ojai Studio Artists for the additional video segments. The theme of the exhibit, Mending the Divide, accentuates CICA’s mission to encourage the inclusion of women composers in concert programming.

Tickets are $15. Proceeds benefit the Virtual Choir programs sponsored by CICA. Information for the On Demand event and ticket purchase is available at cicachoir.org.

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