School Choristers Perspective, April 2016

This week's Postcards from the Chorus features two of SF Girls Chorus School students reflecting on their experience at the recent April 10 concert, performing with cellist Joshua Roman and the SF Girls Chorus.

During my four years in the SF Girls Chorus School, I have had many opportunities to work with professional musicians. I want to share with you my experience rehearsing and performing with cellist Joshua Roman and conductor Valérie Sainte-Agathe for Echoes of the Classics. We sang several beautiful and interesting pieces at the Herbst Theatre that day. The most notable piece for me was Our Voice, an original piece composed for us by Joshua Roman that I really enjoyed learning. Our Voice is about singers and how we have the power to become anything we choose. When we first received the music, everyone was excited to hear the intricate chords of the opening section. At first it wasn’t clicking. But, once it finally came together, we sounded like a united army of angels. During rehearsal we did many exercises to get into character. One exercise that really helped me was thinking of adjectives to describe these angels. In the end we came up with pretty, brave, magical, and disciplined. I feel that each of these describes one section of the piece. For example, during the intro we are pretty angels singing celestial chords. In the second section, we are brave angels. One of my favorite lines of the whole song is the following: “Sure we’re angelic but were so much more than that. We are strong, we are bold.” We are magical when we describe ourselves as “kaleidoscopes of harmony.” And as Valérie would say, we are disciplined throughout the whole song when we are focused and alert. This was an inspiring composition and I’m so honored to have sung it for Joshua.

Members of the SF Girls Chorus School, Levels III and IV, with guest artist Joshua Roman, cello prior to the April 10, 2016 concert. Photo by Rachel Clee.

Q: Where did you get the inspiration for Our Voice?

Joshua Roman: I was actually inspired by the words of Malala Yousafzai, and I was originally going to put the song to her words. I had go through several official privacy procedures and waited months and months for the rights. In the end, I couldn't wait any longer and I probably wouldn't have gotten the OK. So instead, I used the words that you hear now. The driving inspiration I used in the piece was girl power and feminism. Feminism specifically in younger girls, about the age of all the choristers performing today. Something like, we may sound beautiful and heartwarming, but we are also strong and can be anything we want or choose.

The SF Girls Chorus, conductor Valérie Sainte-Agathe, with guest artist Joshua Roman, cello, prior to concert April 10, 2016 at the San Francisco War Memorial Performing Arts Center. Photo by Rachel Clee.

Working with Joshua as a person was also immensely enjoyable. During our long rehearsals, he lightened the mood and lifted our spirits. It’s difficult to comprehend how someone so focused and disciplined in his music can be so humorous in person. Working with him was a great example of what a professional musician’s life can be like. Hearing Joshua play was also so inspiring. I remember how emotional and engaged he looked when he started one of our songs, Snow by Alan Vincent. All year our Director, Dr. Anne Hege, has been working to get us to sing the song with matching emotion. By watching Joshua, I finally understood what she meant.

We also sang Haydn canons with Joshua. Canons are very special to me. They signify a never-ending story of song. Many canons have an important message. For example, in my favorite canon, Death and Sleep, Haydn does an incredible job of describing how sleep soothes the soul. The text is: “Death is a long, long sleep. Sleep is a little, little death that softens grief and turns our pain to rest and peace.” As you can see, Haydn poetically describes the relationship between death, sleep, pain, and peace. Canons are incredible pieces that ebb, flow, and come together like puzzles. It was enlightening to perform them with Joshua because it helped my hear the music from a different perspective.

Q: I loved the sound of the cello alongside our voices, especially because you sometimes play as if your cello is your voice. Do you have any singing experience?

Joshua Roman: I sang in a choir with my Dad for a lot of my life and sang in a rock band for a time, it was great fun! I also used to play the piano, but I had to quit everything to focus on the cello. It was a difficult decision, but it seems to have worked for me.

It was amazing working with Joshua Roman. I hope I will have many more opportunities like this one in the future.

Thoughts from Eva Jackson, Interview by Eva Melin-Gompper Members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus School, Level IV