Every Spring the Seniors of Prime Voci are asked to write an essay about their SGC experience. In 2016 we had three young ladies graduate.
Music has always been an integral part of my being. From an early age, I sang in lieu of talking and I danced instead of walking. I forever thank my parents for recognizing this in me and enrolling me in choir.
I believe that without choir’s influence in my life, I would have been blocked from this part of myself. Being a member of a community of dedicated musicians is something not many people can claim. Over my twelve years in The Seattle Girls’ Choir I have had my ups and downs. I have gained and lost friends, I have laughed and I have cried, I have attended births and funerals. Through that entire time, choir was my rock. It was always there for me, to catch me when I fell and to celebrate me when I soared.
It is hard to truly understand the choir’s dynamic as an outsider. We are not just a group of people who sing occasionally. We are a family. The only way to make beautiful music is by trusting each other. Choir is not about being the one in the spotlight. It is about becoming part of a whole. It is about being a part of something greater than yourself. A choir fails to be a choir when you make it about the individual; in that way, choir is really the ultimate team sport. When you sing on your own, the only person you can really let down is yourself. As a chorister it is more than that. Others are relying upon you. You are dedicated to your art not only for yourself but for the others you sing with.
In a way, choir is both physically and emotionally taxing. Sometimes one needs to fail to succeed and there are always improvements to be made. You gain from your experience what you put into it. And what I have gained is a strong foundation in music performance and theory, a true appreciation for all genres of music, and a deep dedication to what I believe in. But most importantly, I have gained the wisdom to know who I am and what is important to me.
The question of why I joined choir and, more importantly, why I stayed, is a difficult one. I don’t want to be a musician. I never have. In fact, I have spent most of my life dying to become a scientist of some kind. So, why on earth did I join a select choir with an international reputation?
My parents saw how much I enjoyed music and they suggested I join. I agreed. That part is relatively simple. I practiced a song and my mom coached me. And so, at age ten, I stood in a church before a genial Dr. Wright figure and sang a rendition of “The Golden Vanity” that was no doubt squeaky and out of tune. And that was that. But afterwards, choir was not always so simple. The lovely Ms. B had to leave and I wasn’t fond of her replacement. And five years after I joined, I had to audition for Prime Voci (PV). I cried after my theory test, convinced that I had failed. My audition itself was a disaster and the PV girls made sure I knew it. So why on Earth am I still here? What was it about choir that made me stay?
Sometimes, I ask myself this very question. And sometimes, I don’t know what to answer. Because sometimes, choir can feel like a habit, even a chore. I go to choir because it’s what I’ve always done, because it’s expected of me. And as school grew increasingly difficult, I found it harder to find the excitement in rehearsal that I once had. I would drag myself, so tired that I could barely form a sentence, to the choir center twice every week. I would fight off headaches and shove away thoughts of tests and essays as I tried to focus on the music in front of me. I struggled to balance choir with school work. And now that I’ve listed all the bad parts about choir, it really sounds quite horrible. But I’ve done this in hopes that I can show you how the good aspects of choir outweigh the bad. Because even though it wasn’t always smiles and laughter, I didn’t stay just out of habit. I stayed because I do enjoy choir and because it was worth my time.
One of the main reasons I’m still in choir is Jake. I can say with absolute certainty that I would have quit four years ago if not for Jake. His approach to conducting, which focuses on positivity and encouragement, inspired me to audition for PV rather than quitting after my last year in Cantamus. But despite my determination to make it to PV, the audition process did not go well. After my theory test, I felt defeated. Theory has never been my strong suit. Yet, in a manner totally opposed to my generally stubborn and fixed-mindset attitude towards learning, I did stay in choir and continued to learn it. But that theory test broke that streak. I felt like I had failed and was certain that I would not make it into PV. I didn’t feel that I was good enough. But as I cried, wrapped in feelings of self-loathing, Jake gave me a talking to. I don’t remember what exactly he said, but it was encouraging. And it gave me the boost I needed to finish the audition process. To my surprise, I made it into PV. And I’m very glad that I did. Jake is just… awesome. He’s a cool guy. He’s kind and incredibly patient. Working under Jake’s direction has been wonderful. He has high standards, but he also understands what is reasonable to expect from us and he knows that anger doesn’t get us anywhere. So I would like to thank Jake for helping me to stay in choir and for making PV a good experience both in terms of musical education and enjoyment. Sometimes, a stupid joke or a brief interlude relating Star Wars to music was just what I needed to get through rehearsal after a long day at school.
Before I get too far away from the topic of auditions and self-worth, I’d like to give some advice to younger girls. First of all, you will never be allowed to audition for something if you aren’t ready for it. So if you’ve been asked to audition, know that this means that you are ready to move up. If you’re scared to move into PV, know this: Mr. Gagiu has a great appreciation for musicianship and I guarantee that his standards have left you well prepared for PV. In addition, you don’t have to be a theory super star to be a worthy member of choir. You just have to do your best. I know that the talk about “the weakest link” can feel very personal, but don’t let it get to you. Try hard and ask for help. I myself spent many hours outside of choir taking theory lessons from the wonderful and kind Molly. Know that you’ll be ok and you’ll get better. You just need to be happy with where you are. Beating yourself up over your theory skills won’t make you improve. Also, Jake is very nice and can give you encouragement and/or practice worksheets.
Another reason I stayed in choir is my friends. Even though we only have ten minute breaks, I’ve still managed to make great friends along the way. Some have already graduated and others still have a few years left in choir. But even when I was struggling with the music, my friends made rehearsal worth it. In addition, the choir community as a whole is amazing. I get along with everyone in PV and we’re a pretty tight group. Retreat is always fun and I love getting to know the new girls each year. I’m really going to miss everyone, not just my close friends.
The most obvious reason that I like choir is, of course, the music. There’s something amazing about walking out onto a stage with a group of wonderful people and producing beautiful music. And there’s something even better about hearing feedback from audience members, about hearing that they enjoyed the music and were impacted by it. The best feeling is singing in a great acoustic space; the church in west Seattle where we sing Carmina Angelorum is a treat. Hearing the music finally come together is just incredible.
And that’s why I’m still in choir. Because otherwise I’d miss Jake and his silly Star Wars tees and his catchphrase, “do it again, only better.” And I’d miss all my friends and playing bonding games at retreat. And I’d miss singing beautiful music and bringing joy to people. I’m glad I stayed, because that means I didn’t miss these things.
If you have been to any rehearsals this year, or simply talked to me, you may have noticed how I have fully embraced feminism. Having started my school’s feminist club with a close friend of mine this year, the idea of social, political, and economic equality for men and women around the world is very important to me. I even led a women’s retreat at my school this year where, “Women Empowerment!” became an unofficial motto. Reflecting upon my past eight years in the Seattle Girls’ Choir, I have realized that my time here has been nothing but women empowerment.
Empowerment is an idea that I hold close within my heart. It was first taught to me by my Allegra conductor, Miss Tess. Empowerment, to me, is a gift given by one person to another and it comes in different forms. There are many different ways you can inspire or empower someone and every conductor I have been able to work under has somehow shown a way to empower me. When I first joined in the 5th grade, Miss Bartolome was a master at teaching me solfège and all the other concepts I missed from the younger choir years. In 6th grade, Miss Tess taught me about unity and listening to others in the choir. Mr. Gagiu taught me how to be a confident singer and Jake… Well he just teaches me Star Wars references.
Choir has been a magical place for me where everything is safe. An old conductor taught a mantra: “Leave your baggage at the door, only music in this place,” and nothing could ring more true for me in choir. As I grew older and remained in the choir, there were large periods of time where I would find myself in slumps. These growing pains seemed everlasting. However, choir was my one constant in life. Whenever I entered a rehearsal, I only had to focus on one thing: the music. Everything else could melt away, if only for a few hours, and I could escape in this world I could call home.
The community I have found in choir has shaped me to become the person I am today. I had a lot of insecurities growing up. I was insecure about my weight, my voice, my height, the way I interacted with others, and every little flaw I could nitpick. But, the friends I have made through choir have helped me embrace who I am fully. When I went to my first choir camp, I was terrified I would not make friends. I even cried on the bus ride to camp. Immediately exiting the bus, however, I was greeted by a fellow chorister who offered to help me carry my bags.
Although I declined, the kindness continued and a few days later, I was running to the tire swing with some new friends I am still close to today in Prime Voci. I have learned to love my laugh, it is infectious. I have learned to love my voice, it is powerful. I have learned to love who I am, all because of this community. The friends I have made in choir are some that I plan to keep for a lifetime. These friends, although cliché, are my sisters (in AND out of singing). Experiencing everything from having your breath taken away during a concert to having your breath taken away under the stars at camp, the bond between choristers is indescribable and these relationships have built my confidence. Together, we remind each other that we are all women (or persons) of value.
I do not know where I would be without being a part of the Seattle Girls’ Choir and I find myself unable to thank everyone who has helped me on this journey enough. I will miss choir with my whole heart. I will miss singing on long bus rides, eating snack on the tiles, singing outside, and working on a part until something clicks and the music can just flow. Although it is unbelievably my time to part ways with the organization, I know that this group has empowered me to take on any challenge in life. Thank you, Seattle Girls’ Choir, for empowering me with the greatest gift of all: love. I will never forget it and I will never forget this place.
All I have to say to current and future choristers is to embrace the moment, and regardless of how hard the work seems, trust me, it is worth it. When you get up on stage and you finally hear all the voices coming together, you will feel the magic and you will know why the Seattle Girls’ Choir is no ordinary place.