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Women’s Choir Commissioning Consortium

Dr. Pamela McDermott and members of Longwood’s Chamber Singers have been working as part of a women’s choir commissioning consortium: a group of women’s choirs gathered to commission a work by, for, and about women. The resulting work is being performed this semester: first, in a world premiere performance in Raleigh on Saturday, Oct. 5, then in a Virginia premiere on Oct. 30 at Hollins University, and finally in concert at Longwood on Nov. 19.

Dr. Nana Wolfe-Hill of Wingate University initiated the project with composer Linda Tutas Haugen, who is known for her work with historical, literary, and ethnic sources. After extensive research into the source materials of Appalachian folk music, searching for songs that captured a woman’s heart and experience, she created Appalachian Love Songs: Women’s Reflections on Love, Loss and Strength, five movements for women’s voices, piano, and violin.

Haugen writes: “The songs are about love and loss through accident, war, and unfaithfulness; the strength of women supporting and mentoring each other; finding solace and comfort through music and song; determining success or happiness through one’s actions rather than being defined or controlled by others; and the joy, tenderness and companionship of a life-long journey with a spouse.”

During the rehearsal process, Dr. McDermott and the members of Chamber Singers offered feedback to Haugen as she finalized the scores and discussed Haugen’s research findings as she finalized her writings about each song. At the world premiere in Raleigh, members of Chamber Singers worked with 120 singers from 16 other ensembles. They learned directly from the composer and then performed for an audience of choir directors and family members.

You can view a short clip of “Lily Monroe” from the dress rehearsal in Raleigh here: https://youtu.be/P21ptHJ7wiA. “Lily Monroe” is about a woman who becomes a soldier and saves her lover. Haugen’s research into this folk song led her to documents from the 17thand 18thcenturies about a number of women soldiers in Great Britain and Europe, including officers, and their awards and burials with honors. She told of the repression of these stories during the Victorian era, when the notion that “a woman’s place is in the home” became greater than the history of women at war. We found it especially meaningful that Haugen mentioned Joan of Arc as an example of a woman warrior.

Thank you to Dean Byrne, whose support ensured that Longwood’s singers would experience this unique access to the process of musical research and composition, collaborative rehearsal and performance, and the reflection and discussion these experiences generated and continue to generate. Appalachian Love Songswill be performed in Farmville on November 19, 7:30 pm, in Jarman Auditorium as part of the choir department’s fall concert, “We Are Found in Song”.

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