Encore! Women's Choir takes educational bite from Big Apple

Members of the Encore! WOmen’s Choir enjoyed the sights of New York around sessions of singing capped with their performance before a crows of about 2,000 in Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Centre. - courtesy Peter Holmes
Members of the Encore! WOmen’s Choir enjoyed the sights of New York around sessions of singing capped with their performance before a crows of about 2,000 in Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Centre.
— image credit: courtesy Peter Holmes

The city that never sleeps recently woke vocally cultural experiences galore for 18 members of Cowichan's Encore! Women's Choir.

The biggest thrill of visiting New York was singing on March 10 to celebrate International Women's Day in Lincoln Centre's famed, 2,500-seat Avery Fisher Hall.

The evening called Lust & La Femme Mystique was presented by Distinguished Concerts International New York.

That's where Encore! singers were part of a 197-voice choir under veteran director Hilary Apfelstadt.

"None of us thought we'd get to do anything like this in our lifetime," said first-alto Encore! director Christine Dandy said of her choir's "milestone."

"It's a huge stage, and we filled the hall; the sound was phenomenal in that room.

Encore's ranks included Nikki Adams, Tina Andersen, Meredythe Broadway, Trish Dandy, Jacquie de Jong-Seinen, Tanya Friese, Lenore Hietkamp, Beverley Holmes, Kim Hughes, Fran Kirby, Heather MacGregor, Marcy Parkin, Maria Ridewood, Sue Ryan, Deborah Sumner, Carolyn Thompson, and Ann Yelland

Their road to New York was paved with benefits by Encore! members, and their families, who raised about half of the $32,000 for the valley choir's hotels, airfare and tuition.

Money well spent for Encore's epiphany led by Apfelstadt during nine songs written and arranged by women to explore women's issues and concerns.

"It was an honour to be a woman, and represent women around the world," said alto-two Holmes.

The choir's performance saluted women's "creative elements, striving for independence, intelligence and a unique voice in the world."

Encore! singers were among members of eight choirs from the U.S. — including Texas' Encore Women's Choir — Australia, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, plus two others from Canada. Singers knew they had to meet world standards set by Lincoln Centre, explained Dandy.

"We rehearsed Saturday and Sunday, and had a dress rehearsal Monday afternoon. Everyone knew the music, so the director was able to work with fine points and musical nuances, rather than dealing with basics. That made the actual performance very energized."

Critics agreed.

"What fine choirs they were!" raved New York Concert Review Inc. "Beautiful sounds, with excellent diction, and near-perfect intonation. Clearly these women and their conductors were dedicated to this music, and the music was worthy of their labors."

Holmes was stoked too.

"It was stunning; it was such a fine, well-run, precise machine," she said. "It was emotionally uplifting — a pinnacle and a feather in my cap; a memory that will never go away."

What still resonates for Holmes is raising her voice with so many other women from around the globe.

"It fused us all. Some women didn't speak English very well, but you connected on such a deep level."

Dandy said Cowichan's singers gleaned ideas and inspiration from Apfelstadt.

"I learned from the little things she did; in the way she interacted with the choir and some of the comments she made."

Subtle smarts seeped into singers, who ranged from their 20s to 70somethings.

"You got the maturity and the youth, and everything in between," said Dandy.

"We had a really solid first-soprano section. There was just no weakness in the 197 people — and we were solid in the presentation."

About 2,000 vocal fans flocked to Avery Fisher Hall for Apfelstadt choir's nine songs gracing the show's first half.

"Avery Fisher felt elegant, grand, and had really good visibility; very humbling, but elevating," said Holmes.

Numbers were Ave Maria, I Sing Of A Maiden, Travessura, Cancion de Los Tsachilas, Always Coming Home, In the Lavender Stillness of Dawn, The Blue Eye of God, The Half Moon, and Joy.

"Each song had its own focus point, from ecology and women's issues, to dolphins butchered on beaches, Dandy said. "They're nice songs but not ones that are that recognizable."

Some Big Apple tunes will be reprised in Encore's 26-voice May 24 concert It's Show Time at 7:30 p.m. in Duncan's Christian Reformed Church.

Act two in NYC offered Carmina Burana by a 220-voice mixed choir, plus 40 youths from a school choir in Brooklyn.

Holmes' New York odyssey "was a refinement of everything Christine had been teaching us," she said of focus on words, phrasing, emotional emphasis and more.

"It gelled everything, and the director commanded our attention and respect. She brought a story to every song sand we carried that out to women of the world."

Encore! members also enjoyed Broadway plays, bistros, 9/11's Ground Zero, and art galleries while in Manhattan — made safe with a sound police presence, explained Dandy.

Holmes didn't hesitate when asked if she'd attend another Big Apple choir trip.

"I'd do it in a New York minute, as they say."

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