Welcome Back!

Dear SFGC Family, Lisa Bielawa, Artistic Director, Photograph by Liz Linder

Welcome back, SFGC Friends! And a special welcome to our new Chorus Families!

I am thinking of you all as you start your year with us. We are so glad to be back in the swing of things! I'm delighted to greet you in this first of my 2015-16 Postcards from the Artistic Director, in which I will be corresponding with you from where I am in my travels, bringing you a snapshot of the various contexts in which I am serving as ambassador for our girls and our work together. And this year begins with Boise, Idaho, where I have the honor of being the closing speaker of the Andrus Research Center Conference on Women and Leadership! In conjunction with my appearance here, Idaho Public Television broadcast the first two episodes of my TV episodic opera Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser, which means that 32 of our girls were on TV in Idaho last Friday! There are around 700 attendees here, many of whom are young women in various government and public service fields, and a huge group from tech companies (Hewlett-Packard alone sent 200 of their employees!)

My presenter colleagues have set the bar high, and I am taking notes like mad, discovering so many interesting and sometimes unexpected similarities between these women’s experiences in their respective fields, and my own experiences as a woman in a field that has been slow to provide certain kinds of opportunities for women. I’ve had an especially fun time getting to know Colonel Merryl Tengesdal of the US Air Force, the first African-American woman to pilot a U2 spy stealth plane. She grew up in the Bronx and played mellophone in the high school band, loves music and has a fantastic sense of humor.

Lt. Col. Merryl Tengesdal stands in front of a U-2 Feb. 9, 2015, at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Tengesdal is the only black female U-2 pilot in history. Tengesdal is the 9th Reconnaissance Wing inspector general and a U-2 pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Bobby Cummings)

My favorite moment in her talk was this: “On any given day, if no one's at the International Space Station, I'm the highest person on earth.” Alone for up to 12 hours or more in a tiny cockpit, over 70,000 feet above the earth (that’s 13 miles!!), she must operate with unfailing concentration, physiological control, and psychological and mental balance. She says she was seven years old when she decided she wanted to be an astronaut, and she has taken every step that a shrewd and determined girl could take to get her there. Now she is on the way to a new position at the Pentagon, starting in just a month.

Another young presenter in the tech industry, “Professional Hacker” Marianna Budnikova, was born in Russia and came to the US to study, first with funding from the U.S. Department of State, then with funding from a Google Scholarship. She says that in Russia there is no lack of interest among girls to go into computer programming, whereas in the States, she finds that many more boys than girls express interest in computers at a young age. She and I have been sharing our hopes and dreams for ever-higher skill-building opportunities for girls and young women in our respective fields. She even co-founded the Boise arm of an organization called Girl Develop It!

What would you ask either of these women if you had a chance? Is there any part of the experience of learning music, writing music, rehearsing music or performing music that feels like driving a spy-plane alone high above the earth might feel? What about “hacking” or writing computer code? Which of these two women would you most want to meet? Did you know what you wanted to be as a grown-up when you were seven, like Merryl? Did you feel like there were certain fields you couldn’t really be interested in because you were a girl (or because you were a boy, you men out there!)?

Looking forward to seeing many of you in the weeks to come.

Sincerely yours, Lisa