University funds first all-female choir

When constructing a choir, a lineup of male and female voices is not unusual. In fact, it’s a standard setup. But Sandra Snow, Michigan State University professor of conducting and music education, is doing something different with an all-female choir.

“Even if you look at the professional choirs in the United States today, there isn’t one of them that is women’s voices, it’s all mixed voices,” Snow said. “We’ve made a lot of improvement over the past 25 years ... but if you look at the overall landscape, we still have quite a way to go.”

That’s where Mirabai comes in. She was a 16th century mystic, singer and poet who is also the namesake of Snow’s group, the first all-female group of its kind. The choir is the result of MSU’s HARP or Humanities Arts and Research Program.

Mirabai is composed exclusively of MSU alumna who all have pursued careers in music. The group’s inaugural performance on Friday is named after one of the poet’s pieces, “All I was doing was breathing.” The event will be a showcase of Mirabai’s original poetry, as well as some of MSU’s brightest vocal talent.

“All I was doing was breathing’ is this idea that she had a dedicated and loving relationship with her Krishna, which was her spiritual guide,” Snow said. “She has many, many poems where she describes how that altered her life.”

Of her poems, the group will present three in song form a collection known as the “Ecstatic Songs,” a result of a collaboration by Snow and composer David L. Brunner.

Mirabai’s work is only a centerpiece, though. The group will also present a recording the work of a dozen other contributors of female-centric pieces.

“It’s a very powerful thing to understand that this music is marginalized in some cases and is not viewed in the same way,” Snow said. “We had a master’s student in music theory, who is actually a member of this ensemble, and she did a study. She looked at textbooks that all the music students were looking at, and she actually counted the number of examples of music by women composers, and it was frighteningly low — less than 5 percent.”

Those are statistics that Snow hopes to increase through her group. Leading up to Mirabai’s public demonstration, the earlier part of the week is something of a vocal boot camp for the 28 members of the women’s ensemble, as they will record a full-length CD of these works in the course of a week.

The ensemble members will assemble from as far Kansas and Missouri.

Snow said she hopes that the group will continue to exist far beyond what its current two-year funding allows.

“That’s something we’re taking on faith right now. I really think that this is going to generate a lot of excitement and interest and then from that point of view, we’ll need for people to support the ensemble and let them know about it,” Snow said. “We’ll get the CD out, have it distributed widely and see if we can start to build some infrastructure around it.”

‘All I was doing was breathing’

Friday, Aug. 4, 2017, 7:30 $20/ $10 students/ seniors Molly Grove Chapel, First Presbyterian Church of Lansing, 510 W. Ottawa St. ow.ly/fUeO30e5g3K