Week 1: Friday, March 23, 2018
Hello and welcome to the first installment of my weekly Women’s/Treble Chorus blog, here on Choralnet.org!
Starting in April, I plan to introduce a new repertoire selection with each post – focusing on subject matter, composer background, text source/author background, range, voicing, harmonic structure, form, rhythmic components, line independence, and more. I’ll walk through the piece, noting teaching strategies and pointing out potential challenges. It is my hope that this blog can serve as a resource for conductors as we program repertoire for our women’s/treble choirs.
This week and next, I’d like to delve just a bit into women’s/treble choirs as a genre, and what obstacles conductors might face in searching for repertoire.
What is a women’s/treble choir? Who sings in a women’s/treble choir? Why?
Until fairly recently, “treble choir” usually referred to children’s choirs, while “women’s chorus” referred to groups of high school or college women, or adult women in community ensembles. As our terminology has (thankfully!) grown to be more inclusive of non-binary singers, transgender singers, and those who do not identify as women, the naming aspect of women’s/treble choirs has made things a bit fuzzy.
When choosing repertoire, it’s important first to know who is in your ensemble, and how they came to be there, and why. The focus on the how and the why in particular are exceptionally important in making sure your repertoire choices help bolster the spirit and community of the ensemble, while also continuing to move the needle forward in musicality and technical skill.
There are many reasons a group of sopranos and altos may come together to sing, some of which are directly related to their self-identification as women, and some having nothing to do with self-identification beyond voice part.
One such ensemble may be an adult community choir (professional or volunteer), whose focus often (though not exclusively) includes feminism, LGBTQIA concerns, domestic violence, racial inequality, and broader themes of a social justice nature. These groups were often originally “women’s choirs” – to provide women with a space to come together as women, and make music together. While many of these community ensembles have embraced singers who do not strictly identify as women, the word “women” is often still used in the group’s name or bylaws, as a tie to the historic nature of women choosing to sing together in community.
Or, you may have a school-aged choir (of middle school, high school, or college level) who sing together as the second-tier group – i.e. the SAs who auditioned for the top mixed chamber group and didn’t make it. This kind of ensemble is often less about personal identity, and more about the fact that there aren’t enough tenors/basses to balance the number of sopranos/altos in a given program.
Another group may be students who sing together as a non-auditioned or auditioned treble ensemble, as part of the pedagogical design of a given choral program. These ensembles often have a tenor/bass counterpart ensemble, where SAs and TBs work separately on repertoire, vocal technique, and ensemble skills that fit the age and vocal skills of the students, and who may then come together to perform mixed repertoire, as well as SA and TB rep in the same term. Groups in this type of program frequently have an identity as a unit (i.e. women’s chorus or men’s chorus), but that identity is more about who they rehearse and spend time with (sopranos/altos/trebles, tenors/basses), and less about specifically being a women’s choir as based in gender.
There are also programs in which the auditioned SA ensemble is the top ensemble. This may be by institutional design (i.e. an all-girls school, or a women’s college). But, this scenario also occurs at traditional co-ed schools, where the director has chosen to make their flagship choir an SA ensemble – focusing the added responsibilities, additional performance opportunities, and higher difficulty of music on the auditioned soprano and alto students. In this case, the identity is often about being the “top choir,” rather than being specifically a “women’s choir,” though that distinction can vary by school and by director.
And then there are those who are together by (happy?) accident. Often, this is an auditioned mixed chamber ensemble at a smaller school, which one semester happens to not have any tenors or basses. So the auditioned mixed group unexpectedly becomes an auditioned treble group by happenstance.
In the grand scheme of things, programming quality repertoire for a women’s/treble choir can sometimes seem a daunting task. However, my hope is that through this blog you might find both individual selections and general resources that speak to your ensembles and their skill sets, and expand your knowledge of available repertoire. Next week, I’ll talk specifically about the challenges we face as conductors when programming for women’s/treble ensembles. And then in April, I’ll start introducing one song each each week. In the meantime, I encourage you to review these resources below focusing on repertoire for women’s/treble choirs and/or works by women composers.
Until next week!
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is associate professor of music, Director of Choral Activities, and music department chair at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.
Email: Bio: https://www.hollins.edu/directory/shelbie-wahl-fouts/
ACDA Women’s Chorus Repertoire & Resources
Conducting Women’s Choirs (Debra Spurgeon, editor)
Wisdom, Wit, and Will: Women Choral Conductors on Their Art (Joan Conlon, editor)
By Women, For Women: Choral Works for Women’s Voices Composed and Texted by Women (Shelbie Wahl-Fouts)
unCONVENTional Restoration: Giving Voice to the Silenced (Meredith Bowen)
Choral Works by Women Composers (Eliza Rubenstein and Magen Solomon)
Concentus Women’s Chorus (Edna Yeh and Gwendolyn Gassler, artistic directors)
Elektra Women’s Choir (Morna Edmundson, artistic director)
Grand Rapids Women’s Chorus (Lori Tennenhouse, artistic director)
Mirabai Women’s Chorus (Sandra Snow, artistic director)
Orange County Women’s Chorus (Eliza Rubenstein, artistic director)
Vox Femina: Los Angeles (Iris Levine, artistic director)