The SF Girls Chorus in the recording studio at Skywalker with composer Jeff Beal, director Bonni Cohen, and engineer Leslie Ann Jones | Credit: Richard Berge

It’s been quite a year for the SF Girls Chorus. Despite the all obstacles, the vaunted ensemble has stayed active and engaged, took top honors in two categories in the annual SFCV Audience Choice Awards, and collaborated with Ars Minerva in a special online production of Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans. To cap the year, the group is featured on the soundtrack for the powerful Netflix documentary, Athlete A. The recording was released Dec. 4 on Big Branch Music.

The film, directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, focuses on the gymnasts who survived USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse and the reporters who investigated the toxic USAG that enabled Nassar. The score was composed by Emmy-Award winner Jeff Beal, who wrote music for the SFGC for several cues at the end of the film. Beal says, “incorporating the chorus was director Bonni Cohen’s suggestion, and their voices became a perfect sonic pairing for the brave female athletes speaking out,” says Beal. “These young women are wonderful musicians and added depth to the score.” 

In the control room at Skywalker with composer Jeff Beal, SFGC’s Valérie Sainte-Agathe, engineer Leslie Ann Jones, and director Bonni Cohen | Credit: Richard Berge

According to Beal, “there is no text — their voices are used in an instrumental way, singing melodic lines with counterpoint in an additive passacaglia. The singing voices represent the brave young women who came forward in court with their individual stories of abuse, in search of justice.  It was the power of their united testimonies that has changed women’s gymnastics.”

Beal sent his vocal score to SFGC Artistic Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe in November 2019. Just two weeks later, in December, the girls met Beal at Skywalker Sound to record their parts. Valerie conducted the chorus along with the prerecorded instrumental tracks. Beal was impressed with their professionalism. “The chorus had the music memorized, and sang with focus and heart,” he says. 

Valérie Sainte-Agathe conducting the SF Girls Chorus in the studio at Skywalker | Credit: Richard Berge

Sainte-Agathe said about the experience:

It has been an honor to join forces musically with the young women athletes for this incredibly powerful documentary. Empowering girls and young women is at the core of SFGC’s mission and it is essential that we continue to support the bravery, courage and strength of young women. Breaking the rule of silence, liberating and elevating their voices is the only way we will be able to bring change and ensure every girl knows that her voice matters. We should all be involved in making sure these horrific situations never happen again.

The score written for us by Jeff Beal is titled “We Have a Voice Now.” It is a three-part chorus without words because so many important words were already said during the documentary. The music is hauntingly beautiful and adds a layer of emotion, in particular when the voice of a singer is accompanying the athletes’ testimonies. Our singers were so committed to this project that they learned the score by memory in one week and were ready for the recording session at Skywalker, providing different performance options such as a whole chorus, trios, or solo parts. Leslie Ann Jones [recording engineer] and Jeff Beal’s magic made the rest. I would like to thank Bonni Cohen for including us in this project and the entire team that brought this project to life.”

Other recent choral works by Jeff Beal include The Salvage Men for Eric Whitacre Singers and The Los Angeles Master Chorale, Beneath Thin Blanket for Cantus, and a new choral score for the classic silent film Sunrise, for the Los Angeles Master Chorale.  

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