Friday, November 16, 2007

Putting a Face to Women's Choral Music

Vivaldi's 'Gloria,' as first intended
Friday, November 16, 2007


Imagine you are a woman at the Ospedale della Pieta, a hospital and orphanage near Venice in the 18th century. You are either the abandoned daughter of poor parents who could not afford to keep you, or the illegitimate child of a nobleman who could not afford to have your existence tarnish his name.

You may not exist, as far as society is concerned. You may have scars from smallpox on your face or deformities on your limbs. But if you have musical talent, you have one miracle to look forward to every year: performing the music of your teacher, Antonio Vivaldi, for an audience gathered from all over Europe. The catch is, you perform behind a metal screen.

No one will ever see your face.

Vivaldi's now-famous "Gloria in D Major, RV 589" was created for the girls and women of Ospedale della Pieta, said choir conductor Cynthia Powell of Englewood. Like those unfortunate souls, the true heritage of this piece was hidden away for centuries. Mixed choirs performed it, assuming it to have been a regular piece because it was written for SATB voices: soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
WHAT: Melodia Women's Choir.
WHERE: St. Peter's Church, 346 W. 20th St., Manhattan; 212-252-4134 or
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday.
HOW MUCH: $20 in advance; $25 at the door.
But this weekend the Melodia Women's Choir will be offering "Gloria" as it was originally performed. As the artistic director and conductor of Melodia, Powell said the discovery of this history behind the piece made it particularly interesting for the all-female choir to perform.

"It's been a real special journey for us to learn about the phenomenon of these hospitals in Italy," she said.

The 32-voice choir will not be hiding behind a screen, but will be in full view at St. Peter's Church in Manhattan. The mission of the choir, founded in 2003 by Jennifer Clarke and conducted by Powell since its inception, is to bring the rarely performed repertoire of women's choral music to stages in New York and New Jersey.

Powell, who is also music director and organist at Christ Church in Ridgewood and organist/choirmaster at Temple Sinai in Tenafly, says that women's choral music tends to be off the beaten path.

"At some point or another, you're probably going to sing the Handel 'Messiah,' " she said. "You're going to sing the Verdi 'Requiem,' these great works of the choral canon. ... But after you've done that -- not to negate them -- women want to explore this other repertoire."

Women's choral music tends to have a smaller range of notes, resulting in closer, tighter harmonies, Powell added. Such choirs have been a "burgeoning phenomenon" over the past 10 years, she said.

Clarke, a London native, decided to start a women's choir in her adopted home of New York after singing a few pieces of women's choral music as a member of the Riverside Choir Society in Manhattan. She said Melodia has provided a home to young, transplanted women looking to share their love of music.

"They wanted to pursue their musical interests, so they came to Melodia and they found other young women with similar interests who were also quite new out of college," she said. "They had a lot in common and became very friendly with each other."

The choir doubled in size after its first season, and continues to audition twice a season for new members.

The atmosphere of a choir is very important because "creating great music is so much more beyond that of a technical exercise," Powell said. "It's a spiritual endeavor. When you think of it, when you have people singing together, creating something of beauty together, it doesn't get any better than that. It's kind of a miracle."


Copyright © 2007 North Jersey Media Group Inc.
Copyright Infringement Notice User Agreement & Privacy Policy

Print | Close

No comments: