womanSong celebrates 15 years

WANT TO GO?'A Place of Her Own'womanSong 15th-anniversary concert WHEN: 7 p.m. SaturdayWHERE: St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, 36 Norwood RoadCOST: Free. Donations of nonperishable food requestedINFO: www.womansongchorale.org or 304-744-4642   CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Saturday's womanSong concert, "A Place of Her Own," will be a blend of old and new. The concert, celebrating the group's 15th anniversary, will feature songs the female choral group has performed before, as well as new material. "I polled singers and asked them to tell me some of their favorites from the past 15 years," said Emily Capece, womanSong's artistic director for the past five years.In addition to those works, the 29-member group will perform newly composed works. "This is a real girl-power concert in terms of composers and text. There are really nice pieces by female composers and poets."Adding to that girl power, local poet/artist Colleen Anderson (who also designed the artwork for the concert flier) will read some of her works. Plus, former womanSong members will join the choir for the last quarter of the program."It's a nice one-act concert, not very long. There are some humorous pieces and some beautiful, heart-wrenching pieces," Capece said. "It's a nice evening sort of wrapping these 15 years up, seeing where the organization has come from."The group was founded in 1997 by Joann Cordell, who was the artistic director for 10 years. It was born out of her time taking music classes at the University of Charleston. She asked department head Dr. Thomas Bookout if she could start a choir and he said she could, as long as she could come up with a dozen women.
"Basically, I got 12 friends. We had such a wonderful time doing it," said Cordell, who now lives in Pocahontas County. "By the second year doing it, we were a group."
By the third year, the group had grown from 12 members to 25 to 30. It was gaining recognition in the community. It was also giving back to the community."[In the early days,] all of our spring concerts were a collaborative effort with at least another nonprofit in the area, to raise funds for both of us," Cordell said. "Every spring, we found another no-profit to raise funding for and, in the process, raise their profile in the community."These groups included Ronald McDonald House, Covenant House, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation. In a 2004 concert at the Clay Center, womanSong raised $10,000 for Hospice.The Hospice concert is one of Cordell's favorites. "I think back on that and really, really smile," she said."It was called 'The Big Apple to the Big Easy.' It was a huge crowd. We had guest artists: Ethel Caffie-Austin, Blues du Jour, the [Kanawha] Kordsmen. That was huge fun and uplifting."Back then, womanSong's winter concert raised food instead of funds, with admission by donation of nonperishable items for a food pantry. Now, admission to all the group's concerts is done that way.
In addition to local performances, including Joe Manchin's first gubernatorial inauguration and more than a decade at the New Year's Eve GoodNight celebration, the group also has traveled outside the state, first to The Kennedy Center in 2001 and then to the Piccolo Spoleto festival in Charleston, S.C., last year."The trip to Piccolo Spoleto, that was a huge opportunity," Capece said. "I hope to be doing more things like that in the future. My big thing is to increase the caliber of the group, increase our artistry as we go along. It's kind of my goal to present some new, challenging repertoire, for the group to sing harder music year by year."Another goal for Capece is to increase membership. She said she will make a heavy recruitment push in June, especially seeking singers in the Soprano I range."We have some people who have been singing with the group for 15 years who are retiring. We're losing some key players in our organization who have great voices," she said. "I'm looking to add some young singers who are ready for the musical challenges of the group. I want to make sure I've turned over every rock in the greater Kanawha Valley to find singers who should be in womanSong."In the future, Capece also wants the group to tour more, locally and out of state. She hopes the group will go back to Piccolo Spoleto and, possibly, overseas. She wants to produce more CDs by the group, as well."We're always looking to the future," she said. "You can't ever stand still."Saturday's concert, sponsored by Fund for the Arts and the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, features works by Gwyneth Walker, Joan Szymko, Sarah Lancaster, Ysaye M. Barnwell (of Sweet Honey in the Rock), James Quitman Mulholland, William Houser, Moses Hogan, J. David Moore, James Erb, Robert Hugh and Paul Basler. A reception follows.Reach Amy Robinson at flipside@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4881.
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