SF Girls Chorus School's New Honors Ensemble

Interview with Valérie Sainte-Agathe about the San Francisco Girls Chorus School Honors Ensemble, SHE.

Why did you create SHE?

VSA: I wanted to create a high-profile ensemble of children’s voices. Girls from all levels can have beautiful voices and be ready to perform in public events with professional expectations that usually are reserved for San Francisco Girls Chorus and Level IV of the Chorus School.

Why children’s voices?

VSA: I think that we don’t trust children enough. They have something spontaneous and natural in their musical delivery, and the color of the children’s voices is something special that at one point, as they get older, they lose. We don’t give children enough opportunity to show that color and to use it in a professional setting.

What do you see in SHE’s future?

VSA: I see them becoming a touring children’s ensemble who work with orchestras and in festivals, and a place where orchestra works or operas can find trained child soloists who can handle roles in their productions.

What is different about working with the younger singers in SHE as opposed to conducting the SFGC?

VSA: They don’t always know everything at the theory/technical level the way that the older choristers do. On one hand, that is easier, because they follow you no matter what and do exactly what you ask. They are open to trying everything, they aren’t scared or embarrassed. They are bold.  As they get older, they lose a little bit of that. Older girls sometimes need to be convinced they are talented, because they are at an age where they doubt themselves. The younger children know that they are talented, they don’t question it when you tell them so, and it’s powerful. Also, as musicians, they feel the music in a different way. They don’t try to explain or analyze it- which is something that we do need to do as musicians- but can focus on what they feel and what how they want to bring that feeling to an audience.

Lastly, the purity of the child’s voice- there are some very high, high voices. I don’t like the comparison to angels because it doesn’t portray the power of that purity. Their voices are so precise and so pure…you never find that later in life with older singers. 

What is different about working in SHE and working in the Chorus School?

VSA: The ensemble is project-based. You don’t need to have such a high theory level. The choristers are nominated because they have proven they can handle an artistic project. The SHE rehearsals are all focused on achieving the project goal. If there are elements of a piece for a certain project that they haven’t learned about yet in their Levels, they are going to learn it by wrote to achieve the goal, which is to have the project ready. It’s a different method of learning than to learn foundations and build layers of musical development. They are also much closer to the professional artistic world—guest composers, stage directors, the creation of music through commissions. This performance, project-based education is wonderful to run in parallel with their foundational education at the Chorus School.