New Ensemble SHE and Upcoming Performances

Hello SFGC Friends! Lisa Bielawa, Artistic Director, Photograph by Liz Linder

Wonderful to see so many of you this week around Kanbar, as multiple groups and levels prepared for a broad variety of performances in the upcoming weeks. Last night kicked off this very busy stretch, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, where our girls helped celebrate the life of Bill Graham on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) with their Sold Out performance.

I was especially proud of our newest ensemble, SHE (SFGC School Honors Ensemble), conducted by our own Valérie Sainte-Agathe. This serious-minded group of 31 younger singers, from Levels II-IV, debuted last night in a performance of Charles Davidson’s “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” which I remember performing countless times as a member of the SFGC back in the 1980’s, at synagogues all over the Bay Area. This powerful piece is a setting of children’s poems from the Terezin concentration camp, and I remember feeling a mysterious and powerful connection to those young writers as we rehearsed and performed their words, written 40 years earlier. It was a multi-layered experience for me to see our own choristers, now another 30 years later, enter that fold in time and bring these words to life again.

We also had some visitors to SFGC rehearsals this week! One guest included mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin, who knows many of the girls from our premiere ensemble through her work with them on several episodes of my TV opera Vireo. One of my very first postcards, over two years ago, was about Laurie and her story of courage in the face of several kinds of discrimination. The short film Laurie Rubin: A Different Kind of Diva tells her story beautifully, and that story has continued to unfold, with more and more speaking appearances and book tours and anti-bullying workshops for girls. For those of you who missed meeting her on Tuesday, don’t worry, you will have more opportunities next season (spoiler alert!).

Laurie Rubin: A Different Kind of Diva

Here is a photo of the girls, with Laurie and her partner Jenny and another new friend of the chorus who traipsed around from room to room with us this Tuesday, Minna Choi. Minna is the founder and director of a unique musical organization here in the Bay Area called Magik*Magik Orchestra. Like The Knights, with whom our premiere ensemble will be performing at the New York Philharmonic Biennial Festival next month in New York, Magik*Magik is a “pop-up orchestra,” a group of young people who decide that, rather than auditioning for an orchestra after they finish conservatory training, they will start their own orchestra instead.

The San Francisco Girls Chorus with Laurie Rubin, her partner Jenny, Minna Choi, and Lisa Bielawa.

Watch this video about how Minna and her Magik*Magik colleagues worked together with the experimental alternative rock musician, Hauschka. We hear a lot about how modern-day classical composers sometimes bring elements of popular styles into their music. This has been going on for centuries of course, from as early as the Renaissance era and also, notably in the early 20th century, when composers like Stravinsky and Poulenc celebrated the influence of American jazz. Minna is bridging the gap in a different way, by putting her musicians at the service of creative musicians who don’t compose music in the classical, conservatory way, but who wish to reach towards classical sounds and influences. She provides musicians who are classical by training but bring a readiness to collaborate, re-work and try new methods and means. She herself can provide them with arranging assistance, teaching them about the instruments of the orchestra and crafting their ideas to fit the forces at hand.


Last night we heard our own choristers sing some well-crafted arrangements of Grateful Dead songs by Joyce McBride. These also brought music created in the pop milieu into the realm of classical performance. What do you think when you hear a popular song you know well, arranged and performed in the classical concert milieu? What does this cross-stylistic reaching do for the music itself? Does it expand the original message of the song? Does it dilute it? Are there some styles of music that you would rather hear only in their original stylistic ‘voice’? Why? What about Bach? What does this Swingle Singers recording of a Bach Fugue do to your experience of this piece?Is it funny? Beautiful? Ridiculous? Easier, or harder to listen to than, say, this version?

Thank you, so many of you, for a great week together!

Yours, Lisa