By Margie M. Palmer
Local women look back on a life of sharing community and song
The San Diego Women’s Chorus (SDWC) is turning 30.
To celebrate the milestone, the chorus will be hosting three separate performances on May 6 and 7 at the University Christian Church in Hillcrest.
Titled “Reflections: Looking Back on Our First 30 Years,” the retrospective concert will highlight some of the group’s favorite songs from the past three decades.
SDWC Artistic Director Kathleen Hansen said she believes their audience will delight in their song selections, which span contemporary music, commissioned pieces and social tributes including “The Lesbian Second Date Moving Service,” Adele’s “Rumor Has it / Someone Like You” mashup and Jan Ian’s choral anthem “I’m Still Standing.” Ian performed with the chorus last year at Balboa Theatre.
Board co-chair Laura Stratton reflected on the chorus’ history.
“The presence of [LGBTQ] allies as opposed to having an all lesbian and bisexual membership is a significant evolution of the organization, especially over the past 10 years,” Stratton said, adding that the chorus has also seen a shift in its musical quality over the years, gaining national recognition and the chance to sing at the opening concert at the Gay and Lesbian International Association of Choruses (GALA) International Festival in Denver in July of 2016.
“As the world has changed and lesbian/bi/queer women found and created more spaces within the community, women who enjoyed singing and had musical training, flocked to SDWC more and more,” Stratton said. “We have remained committed to performing music that fits our mission to celebrate diversity, encourage women’s creativity and inspire social action, but the world has changed drastically in the last 30 years and we continue to evolve with it.”
They’ve also had memorable performances with the Indigo Girls and Frenchie Davis, in addition to performing at San Diego Pride and rallies against Proposition 8, helping the community grieve after the Orlando tragedy, and singing at the San Diego Women’s March in January.
“Sharing the Balboa Theatre stage with the Indigo Girls in 2014 was an incredible experience I don’t think anyone ever dreamed could be reality,” said Carin Scheinin, marketing chair and past president of the chorus. “Singing with them and then taking selfies at the end of that concert ‘Songs of Protest, Songs of Peace’ was euphoric.”
Scheinin said chorus members expressed interest in participating in the Women’s March from the beginning.
“We reached out to event organizers and as planning continued, it became apparent that the best way for SDWC to participate was to select some of our protest/street songs that are simple to learn and lead, gather together to march together and to help lead the crowd around us in song,” she said.
Hansen wasn’t surprised at the interest, especially since the chorus has a history of being socially active.
“It’s part of our mission,” she said. “We like to get involved whenever we can provide inspiration or a soundtrack to a community event.”
The chorus also joined the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus and members of San Diego Pride and the San Diego Padres at the Out at the Park event on April 21, to sing the national anthem live on the field. It was their third time singing the national anthem for before a Padres game.
In addition to lending their voices to social and protest events, chorus members have been heavily focused on preparing for their upcoming show.
“Our artistic team started preparing for this concert by looking at all of the songs SDWC has performed over the last 30 years,” Scheinin said, adding that they tried to find songs they hadn’t sung at past anniversary concerts.
“[It] was a huge task, as you can imagine, to start flagging the songs that jumped out as really important to include in this retrospective,” she continued. “Our production committee has been hard at work planning concert elements that will make the experience exciting and innovative.”
Plans include incorporating video messages and other visual aspects, including a timeline of their 30-year history and a tribute to former artistic director Christopher Allen. Allen led the chorus from 1996 to 2014 and died in April 2016. Scheinin, who has been with the chorus for 15 of its 30 years, remembers Allen warmly.
“He was always laughing and making us laugh,” she said. “Whether it was putting something funny on his head — like a boa or little hat — and taking pictures, or singing off-key to a perfectly played accompaniment, or reminding us to have ‘ovarian fortitude’ while singing, he was a really funny guy. It always felt so good to get him to laugh, as well.”
A number of the songs chosen for the upcoming retrospective have never been sung by the chorus, Scheinin said, or were previously performed but with a different arrangement, so whether you’ve attended one of their concerts or not, you’ll enjoy what you hear.
While their upcoming performance will highlight memories, the women of SDWC maintain that they are committed to forging a sense of family, friendship and social activism as they look toward the future.
“SDWC is really a family for so many of our members,” Stratton said. “It is truly a place of safety, a place to share the love of music and a place that encourages the practice of activism; and I think that combination is rare in this world. Performing is exhilarating, but I think our members join and stay because of the community they can just step into. They can be themselves without hiding.”
“Reflections: Looking Back on Our First 30 Years” will be held at the University Christian Church, located at 3900 Cleveland Ave. in Hillcrest. Performances will take place Saturday, May 6, at 3 and 7:30 p.m. A third performance will be held Sunday, May 7, at 4 p.m.
Advance tickets cost $20 online, while same-day tickets can be purchased at the church for $25. A select number of VIP tickets, which must be purchased in advance, will entitle ticket holders to premium seating in a reserved section of the venue and are available online for $30.
For more information, visit SDWC.org.
—Editor Morgan M. Hurley contributed to this report.
—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can write to her at email@example.com.