Arts

Peninsula Women's Chorus holiday concert explores the many ways we're connected

Peninsula Women's Chorus, seen here performing at Mission Santa Clara in December 2021, will perform its 2022 holiday concert, "Songs of Connection: The Ties that Bind," Dec. 10, 2022 in Palo Alto and Dec. 18, 2022 at Mission Santa Clara. Courtesy Stan Ng.

With any performance, any work of art, it's fair to assume that performers and artists have put their thoughts, feelings and ideas into it, but even so, it's pretty unusual for a choir to sing lyrics that reflect the words and thoughts of individual members.

Composer Jennifer Wilsey's "Would You Like to Have it All?" was commissioned by the Peninsula Women's Chorus (PWC), and features a libretto crafted from interviews with PWC members.

The piece is making its premiere as part of the chorus' "Songs of Connection: The Ties that Bind" concert Dec. 10 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Palo Alto. The chorus will also perform the program Dec. 18 at Mission Santa Clara.

"Songs of Connection" celebrates friendship and many other kinds of relationships, the importance of which may come into clearer focus in holiday times.

"I started thinking about how holiday concerts are often about relationships and gathering. But there isn't a lot of diversity, necessarily, in the way that we present what relationships are. And so I got really excited about a concert that can capture lots of different kinds of relationships and not just the holiday version of mother and child that we sometimes see," said Peninsula Women's Chorus Artistic Director Anne Hege.

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Wilsey's piece is especially personal for the chorus, with the text for the work created collaboratively. Last spring, poet Denise Newman and artist Lynn Marie Kirby spoke with chorus members about relationships in their lives, with a particular focus on the relationships in their lives as women.

Hege noted that the form of the piece is different from many traditional compositions — unlike many classical works, there isn't a big climactic or "arrival" moment.

"It's very episodic. And I feel like it really captures the way that there are moments in our chorus rehearsal, and then moments with our families and then moments in our work. And there are all these different realms in which we exist, and they dovetail each other," Hege said.

"Would You Like to Have it All?" is one of two premieres on the chorus' program, which also marks the PWC debut of Karen Siegel's "Despertar," a co-commission with Consonare Choral Community, West Village Chorale and the Yale Glee Club. The chorus performed an excerpt from Siegel's piece at a concert in May. The work plays with the "fleeting and ever-changing magic of life and nature through extended vocal techniques and subtle overtone variations," according to the program notes.

Although "Songs of Connection" features new compositions, its diverse program spans almost a thousand of years of music: Hildegard von Bingen's "Caritas Abundat," which dates back to 1151, is the oldest, joined by comparatively newer works by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Vaughan Wiliams and Copland.

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These works mingle with a variety of contemporary music, including two pieces that examine relationships in less expected ways that Hege said helped inspire the concert's overall theme. "Pen Pals," by Pamela Z, explores a woman's evolving relationship with her pen pals and how the digital age has changed how they connect, while Amy X. Neuburg's "Before I Forget" looks at the changes over time in the relationship between parent and child.

Hege said that the array of older and new works is deliberate.

"That's one thing I love to do. I would say that my specialty is new music, but I think it's so important to put these pieces in a room together. When I think of programming, I think of these pieces living together. And there are ways that these pieces start to speak to each other through the process of rehearsing them," she said.

Hege said that better known pieces can also help bridge the gap between the familiar and the unknown for audiences, who may be hesitant to attend a concert of all new works.

Another unique element that will tie the works together and bring a sense of continuity to the concert will be musical interludes between each piece by guest artist, flutist Rachel Beetz. Instead of periods of applause and then quiet between each piece on the program, Hege said she aims to keep the audience in a "listening space" for the concert, weaving in flute interludes.

"(Beetz) not only plays flute but she is also an accomplished electronic artist, so she often adds live processing to her flute playing. For example, she will provide an interlude as PWC walks out to surround the audience for the (von Bingen piece). And in that interlude, she'll be doing some processing and she'll build these looping drones that PWC will then sing over," Hege said.

Perhaps fittingly for its theme, "Songs of Connection" concludes with "Crowded Table" a country-inflected 2019 song by The Highwomen. The chorus features the lyric, "I want a house with a crowded table/And a place by the fire for everyone."

Hege said that she hopes audiences embrace the program's exploration of relationships, as the holiday season highlights the ties between loved ones, and can also present challenges — but the complexities themselves are worth celebrating, too.

"I feel like there's something that especially the new repertoire in this concert gets at is the complexity of relationships. I'm really hoping that there's a way that this repertoire helps with sitting with that complexity of what it means to be in relationships with others, and the joy that's there — how it's not only joyful, but (all that it means) to be together," she said.

The Peninsula Women's Chorus presents "Songs of Connection: The Ties that Bind" concert Dec. 10, 4 p.m. at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto and Dec. 18, 4 p.m. at Mission Santa Clara, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara. Tickets are $10-$40. For more information, visit pwchorus.org.

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Heather Zimmerman
Heather Zimmerman has been with Embarcadero Media since 2019. She writes and edits arts stories, compiles the Weekend Express newsletter, curates the community calendar, helps edit stories for the Voice and The Almanac and assists with assembling the Express newsletters for those publications. Read more >>

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Peninsula Women's Chorus holiday concert explores the many ways we're connected

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Dec 8, 2022, 12:22 pm

With any performance, any work of art, it's fair to assume that performers and artists have put their thoughts, feelings and ideas into it, but even so, it's pretty unusual for a choir to sing lyrics that reflect the words and thoughts of individual members.

Composer Jennifer Wilsey's "Would You Like to Have it All?" was commissioned by the Peninsula Women's Chorus (PWC), and features a libretto crafted from interviews with PWC members.

The piece is making its premiere as part of the chorus' "Songs of Connection: The Ties that Bind" concert Dec. 10 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Palo Alto. The chorus will also perform the program Dec. 18 at Mission Santa Clara.

"Songs of Connection" celebrates friendship and many other kinds of relationships, the importance of which may come into clearer focus in holiday times.

"I started thinking about how holiday concerts are often about relationships and gathering. But there isn't a lot of diversity, necessarily, in the way that we present what relationships are. And so I got really excited about a concert that can capture lots of different kinds of relationships and not just the holiday version of mother and child that we sometimes see," said Peninsula Women's Chorus Artistic Director Anne Hege.

Wilsey's piece is especially personal for the chorus, with the text for the work created collaboratively. Last spring, poet Denise Newman and artist Lynn Marie Kirby spoke with chorus members about relationships in their lives, with a particular focus on the relationships in their lives as women.

Hege noted that the form of the piece is different from many traditional compositions — unlike many classical works, there isn't a big climactic or "arrival" moment.

"It's very episodic. And I feel like it really captures the way that there are moments in our chorus rehearsal, and then moments with our families and then moments in our work. And there are all these different realms in which we exist, and they dovetail each other," Hege said.

"Would You Like to Have it All?" is one of two premieres on the chorus' program, which also marks the PWC debut of Karen Siegel's "Despertar," a co-commission with Consonare Choral Community, West Village Chorale and the Yale Glee Club. The chorus performed an excerpt from Siegel's piece at a concert in May. The work plays with the "fleeting and ever-changing magic of life and nature through extended vocal techniques and subtle overtone variations," according to the program notes.

Although "Songs of Connection" features new compositions, its diverse program spans almost a thousand of years of music: Hildegard von Bingen's "Caritas Abundat," which dates back to 1151, is the oldest, joined by comparatively newer works by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Vaughan Wiliams and Copland.

These works mingle with a variety of contemporary music, including two pieces that examine relationships in less expected ways that Hege said helped inspire the concert's overall theme. "Pen Pals," by Pamela Z, explores a woman's evolving relationship with her pen pals and how the digital age has changed how they connect, while Amy X. Neuburg's "Before I Forget" looks at the changes over time in the relationship between parent and child.

Hege said that the array of older and new works is deliberate.

"That's one thing I love to do. I would say that my specialty is new music, but I think it's so important to put these pieces in a room together. When I think of programming, I think of these pieces living together. And there are ways that these pieces start to speak to each other through the process of rehearsing them," she said.

Hege said that better known pieces can also help bridge the gap between the familiar and the unknown for audiences, who may be hesitant to attend a concert of all new works.

Another unique element that will tie the works together and bring a sense of continuity to the concert will be musical interludes between each piece by guest artist, flutist Rachel Beetz. Instead of periods of applause and then quiet between each piece on the program, Hege said she aims to keep the audience in a "listening space" for the concert, weaving in flute interludes.

"(Beetz) not only plays flute but she is also an accomplished electronic artist, so she often adds live processing to her flute playing. For example, she will provide an interlude as PWC walks out to surround the audience for the (von Bingen piece). And in that interlude, she'll be doing some processing and she'll build these looping drones that PWC will then sing over," Hege said.

Perhaps fittingly for its theme, "Songs of Connection" concludes with "Crowded Table" a country-inflected 2019 song by The Highwomen. The chorus features the lyric, "I want a house with a crowded table/And a place by the fire for everyone."

Hege said that she hopes audiences embrace the program's exploration of relationships, as the holiday season highlights the ties between loved ones, and can also present challenges — but the complexities themselves are worth celebrating, too.

"I feel like there's something that especially the new repertoire in this concert gets at is the complexity of relationships. I'm really hoping that there's a way that this repertoire helps with sitting with that complexity of what it means to be in relationships with others, and the joy that's there — how it's not only joyful, but (all that it means) to be together," she said.

The Peninsula Women's Chorus presents "Songs of Connection: The Ties that Bind" concert Dec. 10, 4 p.m. at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto and Dec. 18, 4 p.m. at Mission Santa Clara, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara. Tickets are $10-$40. For more information, visit pwchorus.org.

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