At the 2023 World Choir Games in Gangneung, Korea, a huge choral Olympiad involving a multitude of young singers and enthusiastic audiences from around the world, Palo Alto’s iSing Silicon Valley has done spectacularly.
The young girls’ choir from the Bay Area received one of the competition’s “Champions of the World” titles, in addition to a gold medal. The title came in the “Musica Sacra a cappella,” category, the gold medal in the “Youth Choirs of Equal Voices” category.
The Palo Alto group — with members from that city as well as from San José, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, and San Rafael — all arrived home safely last week as Korea was struck by fatal flooding.
“This experience has shown me how big and warm the choral community is around the world. It also taught me that big accomplishments like winning part of the biggest choral competition in the world are possible through dedication, trust, care, and perseverance,” iSing HD Choir singer Maia T. said.
iSing Silicon Valley was founded in 2013 “with the vision of changing the lives of young women through choral music.” It currently serves 300 first- through 12th-grade girls from diverse cultures, offering rigorous musical training and guidance for individual and collaborative artistry and engagement.
During COVID, the chorus made great efforts to keep working and performing against the challenges of the pandemic. “It was three years of limited access to the people we care about most,” Artistic Director Jennah Delp Somers said. “These girls have grown up together at iSing: At age 15–18, most of them have known each other for nine years. And they weren’t able to sing together, they weren’t able to create harmony.”
Founded in 2000, the World Choir Games is the world’s largest choir competition, taking place every two years on different continents and organized by Interkultur, a Germany-based foundation.
This year’s edition in Korea hosted 323 choirs from 34 countries, including the Ukrainian girls’ choir Vognyk, traveling from the war-torn country. The next WCG will be held in New Zealand.
iSing’s HD Choir consists of some 40 girls in grades eight to 12. It was one of only two choirs from the U.S. invited to participate in the games this year, following its 2018 Grand Prize win at the International Robert Schumann Choir Competition in Zwickau, Germany. (The other choir from the U.S. was the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, which won the top title in the “Mixed Youth Choirs” group.)
“We went to win, and we won so much more than a medal or title,” said Somers. “The competition bonded us closer as a choir and united us in harmony with choirs from all over the world. We spent the week after the competition exploring Korea. From a temple stay to becoming ‘Seoul sisters,’ our adventures with Korean culture and people have changed us forever.”
iSing won honors in the “Musica Sacra” category for performances of works by Tomás Luis de Victoria, Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger, Joan Szymko, and Andrew Smith, whose “Ave Regina Caelorum” is featured on the choir’s new album, love & light.
And iSing’s gold medal in the “Youth Choirs of Equal Voices” category came competing against choirs from China, the Republic of Korea, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Thailand.
“There were so many magical moments when choirs from all over the world came together,” said iSing HD singer Malaya R.L.
“A girls’ choir from Hong Kong performed one of the same songs as we did, and after we competed, we sang it together on the steps outside the venue. Even though most of us couldn’t understand each other’s language, we made music together — and in that moment it felt like we were all a family. That’s what music is for: It makes us all feel connected, no matter what is happening around us. Music is love.”
Torii K. said she had never had an experience “as suspenseful and rewarding as competing in the World Choir Games. During the opening ceremony I was blown away by the excitement and scale of it all. I left feeling empowered for our choir and curious to learn about the other choirs.
“Although the opening ceremony, competing, and the closing ceremony were all huge highlights, the best part of the whole trip for me were the smaller moments. During the course of the week, choirs used the cafeteria for meals. After our first lunch in the cafeteria, a small group of choirs, including ours, stood outside listening to each other perform.
“Although we didn’t speak the same languages, we stood there enjoying each other’s music. For me, that’s what the whole competition was about: getting to experience different countries and cultures and their music. This tour was an experience I am most grateful to have had.”
The wins come as a capstone to iSing’s 10th-anniversary season, during which the choir performed in concert alongside mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and the St. Olaf Choir and at the prestigious American Choral Directors Association National Conference.
The choir also released its second full-length album (love & light, on Avie Records), which features iSing commissions from Sungji Hong and Kenyon Duncan and other works on themes of remembrance, love, wisdom, and healing, from the ecstatic chant of the 12th-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen to ascendant contemporary choral works by James MacMillan, Andrew Smith, and Kile Smith.