Every Spring the Seniors of Prime Voci are asked to write an essay about their SGC experience. In 2015 we had seven young ladies graduate.
When my mom first encouraged me to join the Seattle Girls’ Choir I was hesitant, because at the time I only thought of singing as something I could do in the privacy of my bedroom. Coming into a choir where I knew no one and had no previous musical training was intimidating, but my initial fears quickly went away. Being part of SGC for the past five years has prepared me for the next steps in my life in so many ways. Not only has it given me confidence in my ability as a musician, but it has also made me part of a community that I will never forget.
SGC has given me so many memorable opportunities that I would not have experienced anywhere else. I have traveled to the Czech Republic and Germany where I stayed with two host families, I have driven to Canada and have competed in an international choral competition, I have met and sung with singers from around the world, and I have made lifelong friendships. My favorite choir memory was singing in the last concert of the 2012 European Tour. We were in a church in Prague that had a balcony that wrapped around the entire church, and I will never forget standing above the audience and singing Ave Maria by Gustav Holst and watching the audience look up at us as the sound filled the room. The hours of rehearsals and practicing at home have all been made worth it by the amazing experiences I have gotten to be a part of. Whether it was traveling the world or singing Ghost Chickens with my fellow seniors at camp, I will always be grateful that my mom encouraged me to audition, because I would be a very different person without SGC.
This past winter, I decided to pursue music scholarships at some of the colleges I applied to.
Recording videos of myself singing and sending them to schools to get a live audition was a daunting process, but my training at SGC had made me more than capable. I was given a live audition at the University of San Diego and was offered a scholarship after performing two songs and sight singing in front of the faculty in the department of music. Even though I chose to attend the University of Washington in the fall, I think that my audition experience encapsulated how much I have grown as a musician since joining the Seattle Girls’ Choir. I have learned so much about not only music theory, but also about what it takes to be part of a choir and make world-class music. SGC has opened so many doors for me and has given me the ability to take my music education to the next level in college, and I am so thankful that I got to be part of this exceptional organization.
When I first began writing my college essays, choir was one of the first topics on my mind. This group has provided me with a community, a release, and a sense of achievement throughout my life, making it an essential factor in the development of my character. However, whenever I tried to explain choir in essay format, I would end up wasting several frustrated hours, unable to convey my message. Choir is an experience that I could never truly capture in just 200 words. Having begun in this organization when I was six, I have been raised with our core values of elegance and artistry which have undoubtedly carried over into every aspect of my life. Early on, I was taught self-discipline and time management, skills that have allowed me to push myself in every class I take in school. Choir has even helped my parallel development as a dancer. The musicality and thorough theory training that this organization has provided me allow me to gain an understanding of the counts, phrasing, and expression of every piece I dance to.
Most of all, I have been amazed at the acceptance found in this community. We all come from different schools, backgrounds, and social groups, but despite all this, we gather two times each week to make music. We have known each other for years, making this diverse group one of the closest crowds I have ever encountered. Being a part of this group has allowed me to be friendly with anyone I meet and has opened my eyes to the true meaning of community. Even if we do not always agree with one another, the hours we have spent rehearsing have allowed us the understand one another. We have learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses and therefore have learned how to help each other grow in confidence, musicianship, and style.
Finally, I am simply grateful to those that have made this experience possible for me. In addition to choir, I have held onto a long-term commitment to dance. This has forced me to miss rehearsals and shows on both sides, but the willingness of SGC to work with me on these conflicts has been extraordinary. It is not uncommon to find yourself stuck between two passions, but my advice to the next generation of choristers is to do all you can to continue with this group. Choir goes so far beyond simply being an activity. It is a form of expression, a place of peace, and a fiercely powerful community. Being a member of SGC has allowed me to develop character and maturity and has instilled in me a discontent with anything but my best effort. Choir pushes you to find, express, and expand yourself.
I began my career at SGC when I was eight years old in Vivissimi with Ms. Braund. After singing in school for three years my mom asked if I would want to join a private group. At first the idea of trying something completely new intimidated me and I pretended to be uninterested. Unlike my soccer team and other activities I didn’t know anyone in SGC. This was reason enough for me not to join. One day however I spontaneously decided that I wanted to audition for the Seattle Girls’ Choir. My mom and I drove down one Saturday in May to Trinity Lutheran. I had prepared “Puff the Magic Dragon” and was unbelievably nervous. To calm my nerves my mom and I played ping pong in the basement until Celia Castle came downstairs clip board in hand and declared that it was my turn. I had the pleasure of auditioning for Mr. Gagiu, Miss Tess and Doctor Wright. I sang my song and was told to my delight that I had met the requirements and would be placed in Vivissimi. That audition was one of the best things that I have ever done. The choice to try something new opened the doors to a world that changed my life forever.
From a musical stand point my life has been enriched by the exposure to amazing pieces of music. I am only 17 years old and I have sung Holst, Casals, Mendelssohn, Berkey, Gawthrop, and Britten. The emphasis of musical knowledge and understanding has also made a huge impact in my life. Even though I will admit that theory classes were not always the most enjoyable aspect of choir I now appreciate them immensely. While I was auditioning for choral groups at Gonzaga University the conductor asked me to sight read a piece of music. Upon hearing that I was a Seattle Girls’ Choir member he immediately flipped to one of the difficult exercises stating that “Since you’re a Seattle Girls’ Choir girl you will be able to handle this”. And I was able to confidently read the piece as well as sing alone in front of a stranger something that I never would have been able to do without SGC. I developed confidence with the help of SGC and learned the importance of hard work. Thanks to SGC I now have a work ethic; I understand that things don’t happen overnight it takes hard work and commitment. Even though our choir may be scrutinized for being too tough I could not find this farther from the truth. Our choir may have expectations but these “harsh” expectations have caused me to be a better human being. I understand the concept of respect and discipline which cannot be said for some of my high school peers. As corny as it may sound elegance and artistry is exactly what this group taught me. Especially throughout my four years with Prime Voci I have become a confident person and singer. I went from slumping around trying to fit in and not be noticed to someone who holds their head up high and carries themselves with confidence and assurance.
There are so many amazing memories that I have made with this group. From singing at Piccfest with hundreds of other singers, singing in the balconies of St. Nicolas’ in Prague, turning 15 in Hannover, Germany with a host family, to winning the small group competition at Kathaumixw the day after my 17th birthday. All of these wonderful memories I have experienced thanks to the Seattle Girl’s Choir. My advice to any younger girl is that even though choir can be tough at times the reward is always worth it. The friends you make, the trips you’ll take, and the music you will learn will always be worth that Saturday rehearsal. This choir has meant so much more to me than just an after school activity. This choir has been my second home for 10 years, a place where I can be who I am without fear. The friendships I have made will last beyond my time here and the lessons I have learned I will carry with me throughout my life. The Seattle Girls’ Choir isn’t just an organization, it’s a family and sticking with this family will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
Choir teaches discipline. That is what every alumna and every member of the SGC community will tell you, and I’m sure is something that most of my peers will write about as they reminisce on their years in this organization. Of course, this is true – I cannot think of a better way to teach young women the value of hard work than to have them commit countless hours of what can at times be mentally and physically straining work, and reward them with the magical feeling of singing an impeccable concert. The gratification I got from going on PV’s tour of Germany and the Czech Republic at the end of my freshman year was perhaps one of the most important events in my life. It showed me that there was so much more to life than what I got from going home and doing my homework while watching TV every night. After seeing how well I could do at something if I worked hard at it, I was motivated to join other extracurriculars that I had previously been too shy to participate in. I am now an editor of several literary and journalistic publications at my school, president of an activist club, and a member of the National Honor Society. I was even accepted to the liberal arts college of my dreams, a goal I have had for many years, but only had the courage to work towards after being empowered by my experience in choir. I know that none of these amazing things would have happened without the skills I learned from SGC and the support of this community.
SGC really does give girls the toolkit to work towards and achieve their goals, and even to
recognize what those goals are, but what people don’t realize (except perhaps through the rightfully ridiculed slogan ‘Serious Singing Serious Fun’) is that above all, choir is a place full of joy and laughter. We can go from winning a hard fought competition to watching Shrek 2 in a dingy hotel room, giggling so loudly we worry about waking up the neighbors. We can go from singing Holst’s Ave Maria to belting terrible country songs in carpool on the way home from rehearsal. On the Christmas Ships, we even make fun of Santa and use every second that’s not spent singing, exchanging presents, or lying on our backs around a Christmas tree wiggling our feet at the bridge overhead, to take horrifyingly ugly (but wonderfully hilarious) selfies. While spending hours of hard work maturing and learning how to act as an independent adult with integrity and a strong work ethic, I also got the opportunity to experience some of the most youthful and carefree moments of my life so far.
I have met some of my best friends through choir – none of the young women I call my
chosen family today were the girls I would have picked out as my future partners in crime when I was a nervous 8th grader in my first year of choir, but somehow, luckily, we found each other. As I listen to recordings from throughout my choral career and reflect on my time in SGC, I smile at how serendipity has brought amazing friends into my life, who taught me how to let go and jam to a country song, how to emulate Julie Andrews in all aspects of life, and most of all, how to be a good friend. Those silly divisions of middle school years are memories we laugh about now, and I can’t wait to keep reminiscing and making new memories with my friends at the Christmas Ships every year, when they are bridesmaids at my wedding, and when we are rocking our grandchildren on a porch somewhere with iced tea in our hands. Who knows – we might even try to sing Personent Hodie again every once in a while.
When I joined SGC, I didn’t think I’d end up spending more than half of my life in it. Now, after fourteen years it seems almost unreal. Little 4 year old me never would have thought I’d stay here this long, and 18 year old me today still can’t believe I actually did. Being here for so long had such an impact on my life, I wouldn’t have matured the way I did without SGC. I’d still be that overly excited, bouncing ball of non stop annoying energy that couldn’t even remember my audition song.
I’m glad I stayed for as long as I did, even if before every rehearsal I’d tell my parents “I don’t wanna go to choir” Or before every concert on a sunny saturday I’d say “Do I have to go?”
Looking back on it all, I always left those sunny saturday concerts with unforgettable memories and wonderful experiences.
SCG has been my family for the past fourteen years, I’m not exactly sure what life is going to be without seeing these girls every week. The friendships I got from this choir are unforgettable and absolutely life changing, and I’m honored to have met so many amazing girls and ladies while being apart of this family. I’ve seen so many of them grow and change, just like most of them saw me do the same. It’ll be surreal being without them for the next chapter in my life.
Every single internship, job and scholarship I’ve ever applied for has asked me about the experience that has shaped me most as a person, and every single time I have written or talked about choir. But they never want to know about the fun parts, they only care about the punctuality and accountability and responsibility I’ve learned. They’re all focused on a seven-year-old’s concept of “early is on time, on time is late, late is unacceptable” when all I really want to talk about is the touchy-feely stuff, all the friends I made and moments I shared with them and the incredible music we made along the way. I’ve sat in multiple interviews where I was asked, “How is your time management?” and I started, “Well, it’s quite good because in choir they took us on tour and we had to be responsible for getting back on time because if we weren’t we weren’t allowed to go out the next time,” and that promptly devolved into, “and we were lost in Berlin and only one of us spoke any German and then a bus came and we got on and asked if it could get us to where we were going but the bus driver didn’t speak English but the best part of the story is that German buses give change!” Prospective employers don’t really care about the Berlin transportation service, but I’ll be telling that story until I’m regaling my children’s children in a retirement home because it’s darn funny (and I’m still a little in awe that we ever made it back to the hotel).
I’ll always be a choir snob. I’ll always be proud of my sight reading and the fact that I know what a diminished seventh chord is, and that I can play anything perfectly on the piano after hearing it once and then improve on it after that and play it blindfolded and compose immortal pieces for orchestra and voice and – no, hang on, that’s Mozart. In any case, I’m a choir nerd and proud, but the parts that I’m most glad and most thankful for are the parts in the middle. Some of them involve singing; I will never get over how cool the beginning of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds as we split into harmony while meandering back from break and the room suddenly fills with sound. I certainly will never forget standing before a hockey stadium in Powell River, knocked almost breathless by the beauty of the voices of the girls at my side. But I will also never forget the tire swing at camp (and Annie’s artful aerobatics), or racing down the driveway on scooters-turned-stallions, or lunch in the garden at my German host family’s house. My friends and I have inside jokes that will be funny at our fifty year reunion and we will laugh maniacally like the disciplined delinquents we are. No one who knows me in the next twenty years will be able to go a month without hearing, “This one time in Germany,” or “this one time at choir camp,” or “this one time in Canada”. I’ve got some great stories and it’s their loss because they only get to hear me repeat them a thousand times; I got to live them.
That was the original end of my essay: short and sweet and a little bit alliterated, but it didn’t feel like enough. After writing and rewriting a dozen summaries of my time here during (tearful) drives and train rides (yes, Mom, I was tearing up on that train to Inverness two years ago thinking about leaving choir), thinking up heartfelt messages and corny poems and trying to squeeze ten years into five paragraphs, I came to a realization. The most important thing about the Seattle Girls’ Choir is that it’s not going to end. I’m going to leave in a few short weeks and though I’ll be singing my heart out at the 50th and 75th and 100th anniversary concerts, it will be over for me. I will no longer be a chorister but an alumna, the proud owner of a crystal star, a few sweatshirts, and enough t-shirts to provide Piccolini with uniforms. But SGC will continue. I have spent the last year with girls who will be writing their senior essays when I am nearing 30. Every story that I have to tell they have to live. Some little one in Piccolini or Dolcine, or even a two-year-old who is just on the cusp of proudly regaling her parents with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” for the first time is out there, with no idea of the adventure that lies ahead of her. I don’t have to tell any of the girls in the audience about the amazing memories I made here, because they’re going to live them.
I’m still stuck. It’s still not enough. I’ve been thinking critically about my senior essay for three years now, ever since I said goodbye to the first generation of seniors that I had had the honor of singing with. I must have scrapped over a dozen essays, songs and poems all straining around the girth that is what SGC means to me, all falling abysmally short.Then I realized that I had known the answer to life, the universe, and everything (that’s what I call SGC when no one’s listening) ever since my very first music theory lesson in second grade: Each Girl Brings Different Friends. These are the notes on the lines of the treble clef. Each Girl Brings Different Friends. How simple, how elegant, how artistic. That’s it. That’s all you need to know about SGC. You can study at Juilliard and Eastman and King’s College, you can write a 50-page thesis about medieval chord progressions, you can slave over counterpoint worksheets until your eyes pop out, but all you need to know to understand SGC is Each Girl Brings Different Friends. That’s it. I don’t need to explain that any further because every girl reading this knows what I mean. Each girl brings different friends.
“The only thing better than singing is more singing.” –Ella Fitzgerald
I have so many memories from choir, memories from tour, from camp, from rehearsal. I remember singing Gustav Holst’s Ave Maria from the balconies down onto the crowd below and burst into tears as I walked off the stage at the end of that concert. I remember screaming the words TEAM PINK at the top of my lungs while my scavenger hunt team threw their hands up in the air. I remember picking up the fresh copies of Silent Night and seeing my name printed in the top right corner.
But the one memory that I think of most happened on the first day of camp, the year I joined Cantamus. It was our first rehearsal; we were standing in our semicircle around Mr. Gasiu, looking through the first song of our winter repertoire and listening more for the bell than for Mr. Gasiu’s instructions. And then we started to sing.
I don’t recall exactly what song it was or what notes I was singing, but I remember what it felt like. I wasn’t just singing notes off the page, I was singing a part of a song. And the other parts were filling in all around me, supporting me as I supported them. I wasn’t just one voice in the crowd anymore, I was part of a whole. And for the first time since coming into the choir, I thought to myself, Hey. I like this. I’m really going to like doing this.
I joined the Seattle Girls’ Choir because I wanted to be like my sister. I stayed in choir because my parents wouldn’t let me quit.
For years I would complain about the car rides, the hours lost, the standing in place for hours on end. I dreaded every concert, where I’d have to sit still for what seemed like hours as chaperones quietly lost their patience, minute by minute.
But then something changed.
I started to actually like choir. Even if I didn’t like all of the songs, I liked enough of them to tolerate the rest. Even if I didn’t always get along with the people, we all had one thing in common- the music that we created together. Choir became my second family, my home away from home.
School was tough. It wasn’t until my last two years of high school that I really found friends. I wasn’t the best student, and I never got enough sleep. And on top of all that, I had choir on Monday and Wednesday nights.
I’d come into rehearsal dead tired, sometimes on the verge of tears. I’d line up for backs-and-shoulders and think to myself I feel awful, nothing is going to make me happy again. And every single time I’d come out of rehearsal smiling.
The world is never silent. Silence doesn’t even exist. There will always be someone talking, someone breathing, someone singing. The air will always move and dance and spin. No matter how hard you try to quiet it, the world will never be silent, not really. You can stop the dance but the energy will still be there, in your feet. You can stop the song but the music keeps going, in your head.
Graduation seemed like a foreign concept to me until I went on tour in my freshman year. The last concert had a lot of people in blubbering tears; most of the parents, all of the seniors- and me.
I realized the inevitable. The last concert comes. The last song ends and I sing the last note I’ll ever sing with this choir, I let it go and listen to it crawl up the walls and through the glass windows and up into the air and that’s it. The song is over.
But the music, oh.
The music soars.