In choral music, the idea of “women power” means a very special thing. Ten years ago, Fresno welcomed a new high-level choral group offering audiences a distinctive sound: All the singers were women. Soli Deo Gloria was born.
“I love getting to sing difficult music with this group and polish it to a high level,” says Julie Carter, the group’s artistic director and founder. “I’m very proud of how hard the singers work. After all, they all have day jobs and volunteer their time singing! They’re delightful women to work with.”
To mark its 10th anniversary, the group is offering a season-ending, celebratory concert titled “Blue Skies and Broadway.” It will feature songs from such classic musicals as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Pajama Game,” along with selections from more recent musicals such as “La La Land,” “Frozen,” “Les Miserables,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Wicked.”
As the season winds down, I enlisted the help of Carter and members of the chorus to come up with 10 Things to Know about SDG. Here’s their list in Carter’s words:
The group started rehearsing in the fall of 2008.
I was looking to start a group that would sing at a high level of musicianship. There are always more women than men in choirs (in general) so I made it a women’s choir. We began with 16 singers, I believe, five of whom are still singing in the group! Originally we met at my home and sang in the dining/living room after I moved the furniture out. This was while my kids were younger so it was nicer to be at home. Eventually we outgrew it, though, and now rehearse at Clovis West High School’s choir room.
It’s a well-rounded group.
There are accountants, lawyers, a Fresno State math professor, an optometrist, house cleaner, music teachers, a counselor, a Realtor, students, retired folks, a school administrator.
SDG is well traveled.
We’ve performed in Fresno, usually at University Presbyterian Church, also at San Joaquin Gardens (we’re regular performers in their Tolladay Theatre), College Community Church, MB; and Fresno Pacific University as part of its Pacific Artist Series. We also have sung in churches in Visalia, Reedley, Porterville, and Lemoore. Field trips include exchange concerts with the Canzona Women’s Ensemble, performing in the San Luis Obispo International Choral Competition (placing third in two categories), Carmel, and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. We sang at Clovis High School., Clovis East High School, and Clovis North High School for their choirs. We recently sang at Shaghoian Hall with some other local choirs.
SDG reaches out to an older demographic.
We also perform in local retirement homes. Once we performed at Fairwinds, and there wasn’t a natural performance location so we were in the front room near the front door. One of my altos was standing right next to the sensors that open the doors. Periodically throughout the concert she would move slightly and the doors would open and close! In the same concert, another elderly woman with a walker was determined to go somewhere, and during our song she got up and walked right through the choir! We kept singing……. At another retirement community, some ladies were seated right behind where I was conducting. One of them said, in a voice she thought I wouldn’t hear, “I don’t know any of these songs!” I turned around and with a smile said, “You’ll probably know this one! She was so startled to think I heard her!”
Local composers rock.
We commissioned local composer Kevin Memley most recently on “Immortal Harps.” I absolutely love that piece! We also commissioned Fresno Pacific’s Walter Saul on “Now to the King Eternal” and Memley for a version of “Hodie.” We’re in discussion with E.J. Hinojosa, who teaches at Roosevelt High School, about commissioning something new. We participated in a consortium of women’s choirs a couple of years ago and got 3 new pieces.
Instruments are key.
I love directing orchestras, so we have tried to incorporate stringed instruments whenever possible. We’ve used brass, too, along with organ, percussion and woodwinds. The most unusual instrumentation was on “Gaudete” when a steel brake was used. There was a very creative combination of instruments in that piece, and it was extremely effective. We also had a steel drum on a Caribbean piece last spring.
Sometimes you have to (literally) feel the beat.
We did a commissioned piece by Moira Smiley called “I Have a Voice” that had a great deal of body percussion. It was quite challenging to sing the notes/rhythms and incorporate body percussion that didn’t always feel natural! However, we have noticed that the small children of our singers seem to learn the choreography just fine while watching their moms.
Practice where you can.
Members of the group have found creative places to practice their music! When traveling: in airports of St. Louis, Las Vegas, Denver; at doctor’s appointments, while cleaning client’s houses, in front of the “yard guys,” in BART, driving their cars, vacuuming!
We are finished singing. Now we eat.
One of our choir retreats was on national “Pi” day, so we all brought different kinds of pie to share!
Sometimes you just have to sing ‘Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo.’
At “Blue Skies and Broadway,” you’ll get a special treat: Carter herself will sing to the audience “The Lonely Goatherd” from “The Sound of Music.” Move over, Julie Andrews.
“Blue Skies and Broadway,” 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 18, College Community MB Church, 2529 Willow Ave., Clovis. There will be a pre-concert lecture at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 advance, $20 at door, $10 for students.
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