Wednesday, May 21, 2014

30 Years Singing About Peace and Social Justice

1985 Choir: Founder Gaye Fifer 2nd from Rt., Top Row

Estelle Phillips began singing with the Charlottesville Women’s Choir in 1985.  The longest serving member of the current choir, she is also its official archivist, unofficial photographer, and hence its historian as well.

Estelle recounts the choir’s origins this way: “In 1984, a group of women, including Gaye Fifer, used to gather around the piano at the Prism Coffee House to sing after meetings of CLASC (the Charlottesville Latin American Solidarity Committee).”  Gaye proposed transforming this ad hoc group into an ongoing choir to sing about social and political concerns. 
2001 Concert

At its origin, with only five singers, Estelle felt too intimidated to join, but by 1985, when the group had grown to about dozen, she joined.  In 1985, she became one of the volunteer directors, and ever since has been singing and directing with the group.  On June 1, she will direct three pieces in the upcoming 30th Anniversary Spring concert, and a number of her current and former sister choir members will direct several others.  This year, the choir also contracted with retired music teacher Renita Banks to lead two pieces.

The concert scheduled for Sunday, June 1 at 4:30, will be held at the Haven (First and Jefferson Sts., Downtown Charlottesville).  After the concert, the choir will host a reception open to attendees and honoring the early members of the choir, especially Gaye and Deb Shapiro, another early leader.

This event will mark the   30th year since the choir’s founding.  Gaye, who now lives in Pittsburgh, will return to lead a Spanish round from the ‘80s that started it all -- “Nicaragua” (Remember civil war in El Salvador and Ollie North and secret American support for the counter-revolutionaries in Nicaragua?)

In addition, the choir will sing a wide variety of other pieces from the past 30 years with themes of women’s rights, peace, social justice, and environmental awareness – including everything from a song of women’s empowerment, “Nana was a Suffragette” to the exile’s yearning for a home in “By the Waters of Babylon” and the comic “Girl Shoes” and “The Royals,” a tuneful commentary on pop culture, performed by a quartet of choir members.

Although, according to Estelle, Gaye did most of the work when the choir was founded, the choir now operates with members selecting music, coordinating appearances, and conducting warm-ups before practices.  In its decision making, it aspires to reaching consensus on major matters.  In day- to- day administration, two or three coordinators or “chords” manage the organization with a treasurer collecting dues that pay the bills.  A half dozen choir members currently also teach and/or direct the songs.  

In addition to the spring concert, the choir also performs a number of gigs throughout the year, including the annual fall vigil for victims of abuse sponsored by the Shelter for Help in Emergency (SHE), the Martin Luther King Day Community Celebration, and a service for imprisoned women at the Fluvanna Women’s Correctional Center, one of the choir’s favorite venues.   The group also sings a couple of times a year at Sojourners United Church of Christ, where they practice, and have sung at events sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church and the Association for Interfaith Ministries.   Each fall, the group opens its membership, and interested women attend several rehearsals before a decision is made.  The group includes women from a wide variety of professions, and includes students as well as retirees, mothers, grandmothers and at least one great grandmother.

The Spring Concert is the culminating event of the Choir’s 2013-14 season before the women disperse for summer vacation.  Donations at the door are requested, and proceeds are shared with a local nonprofit group, which over the past years has included SHE, the Urban Agricultural Group and the Walker Middle School Choir.  This year’s beneficiary will be the Barrett Early Learning Center, which has been providing exemplary day care since 1935, making it the oldest day care center in the Commonwealth of Virginia (so also the oldest in Charlottesville.

  The Charlottesville Women’s Choir 30thAnniversary Spring Concert
Sunday, June 1, 4:30 p.m. at the HAVEN (corner of 1st and Market Sts., Charlottesville)
The Barrett Early Learning Center will share in the proceeds from this event.
Donations appreciated but not required:  Suggested:  $5-$15 adults; $4 children 5-12;
free -- under 5.

2013 Spring Concert at the Haven
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