Of all the musical instruments, none is quite as poignant and powerful as the human voice. And while singing is often a deeply intimate and personal act, it can also be a shared and communal experience—a way of connecting with others and empowering voices that are too often silenced.
That’s the notion behind the Chorosynthesis Singers’ concert this Saturday, titled “Empowering Silenced Voices.” Created by co-artistic directors Jeremiah Selvey and Wendy Moy, the concert features ten new choral premieres championing a wide range of humanitarian causes, including LGBTQIA love, women’s rights, child advocacy, and the effects of terrorism and war.
The unique concert program integrates the beauty and the history of classical music with the urgency and pragmatism of contemporary social and political issues. The goal is to ignite critical thought and create lasting change which will inspire audience members long after they leave the concert hall.
We sat down with Chorosynthesis’s two co-artistic directors to talk more about choral music, concert programming, contemporary composition, and the sociopolitical issues facing our world today.
Second Inversion: What sets Chorosynthesis apart from other choral groups?
Jeremiah Selvey: We are professional, meaning that every single person you see on stage is paid for their services. We value the performer who is making the art. We also perform new works with messages that are relevant to our contemporary world, such as human rights and the effects of war and violence. With the exception of one piece, everything you will hear performed in this concert has been written in the last 7 years. Ten of 11 pieces are either world, U.S., or regional premieres.
Finally, we are a truly collaborative group. We have not one, but two artistic directors, and we balance each other out. We also solicit a significant amount of feedback in the repertoire selection process from both singers and stakeholders by holding reading sessions months in advance. We also valued the direct feedback of the composers. Not only have we been furiously emailing back and forth with most of our composers regarding interpretations of their work, we will be working with 5 of them this week in preparation for this concert. All 5 will be in attendance at the concert.
Wendy Moy: Our roster features professional singers from around the country. Auditions were held via Skype with the artistic directors in two different locations (CT and IL.) We have six based in the Seattle area and 6 singers flying in from as far as Connecticut for a week of rehearsals and the concert.
SI: What makes Empowering Silenced Voices such a unique and inspiring concert program?
JS: “ESV” (as we have affectionately come to call it) is a concert full of premieres; 10 of 11 pieces will be a premiere of some sort. How often do you have 70 minutes of choral PREMIERES by 10 different living composers?! It is not just a concert of premieres, this music has been selected carefully to represent a diversity of perspectives, texts, and ideas, all with a social justice or humanitarian message. How often does “classical” music reach out and touch the practical side of human existence? This program brings together the ideals of beauty and creativity in the choral art and the pragmatic side of being human.
Not only is this an innovative selection of repertoire with a human message, but also this music has been programmed with the intention of taking the audience on an emotional journey. Because the content of the program is necessarily “heavy” in its tone, we have programmed the music to feel as though no piece stands completely on its own, but is to be experienced and interpreted in light of the context—what precedes and follows each piece. It is our goal that this amazing music changes us as performers and you as the audience. Yes, this music is gorgeous and stunning, but if that is all that we experience, we might as well have been singing about flowers and nature. We want this music to transform all who come into contact with it! From the inception of this project one of our mottos has been “Changing the world through music.” That is why ESV is so unique and inspiring.
SI: What types of social or political issues are traversed in the course of the pieces selected for this concert? How did you select these pieces?
JS: A year ago we put out a Call for Scores (which is ongoing). Our advisory committee narrowed the selections down. Then we took some of these selections to “New Music Reading Sessions” here in Seattle, where we read through and solicited feedback from singers. Next, we chose pieces that were 1) compositionally superior, 2) a premiere (with the exception of one), 3) resonated well with singers, and 4) were strong in their social justice or humanitarian message.
The topics touched on over the course of the program include LGBTQIA love, women’s rights, child advocacy, and the effects of terrorism and war. I think the program notes tell more than we could specifically describe, and these notes come straight from the composers.
SI: What makes music a valuable lens through which to discuss issues of oppression?
JS: Music tends to remove the barriers that speech can often create. Across political lines or the divides of ideology, we like to talk “at” each other. We believe the music helps us to experience another perspective in a more visceral way. By removing the preconceptions often triggered by a normal dialogue, the performance of music allows a narrative and its social perspective to be received and understood more easily. Well-constructed choral music is able to introduce the language of speech as an added layer to the musical narrative, providing more clarity. The texts and poetry in this performance are beautiful, poignant, and significant to our world; the music helps us to conceive or re-conceive these ideas.
WM: Music helps to connect us more deeply to the issues and, more importantly, to each other. In many of these pieces, the music evokes a personal experience that helps us to see different, perhaps new, perspectives on an issue of social justice.
SI: What are you most looking forward to with this Empowering Silenced Voices performance?
JS: At every twist and turn, I have been changed by this music. In the end, we want our audience to experience the voices of those who have been killed, silenced, or covered up. This concert is about advocacy, and we want people’s hearts to change. We are all guilty of silencing voices. If people walk away being so moved that they give a voice to one person that they would not normally give to, we will have considered this concert a success. That is what I most look forward to!
WM: We have spent the past 12 months setting up the logistics for this concert to happen so it is with great excitement that we start putting together the music with the ensemble this week. I am looking forward to our audience “meeting” these pieces for the first time through our singers and the potential it has for creating beauty, dialogue, and change in the hearts and minds of all those present, including the singers and artistic team. I hope that the audience walks away having made some sort of connection-whether it is to the music, the people in their lives, the greater community, or the issues of social justice.
Chorosynthesis’s “Empowering Silenced Voices” concert is this Saturday, March 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Good Shepherd Chapel in Wallingford. For additional information and tickets, please visit this link.