Peninsula Women’s Chorus
Peninsula Women’s Chorus at its fall 2022 retreat | Credit: Deanne Tucker

Jan Cummins — a Los Altos attorney, soprano, and member of the Peninsula Women’s Chorus — is anticipating the group’s next concerts in December:

“My favorite piece in the program is ‘No Time.’ There is something near the end of the song that is absolutely transporting for me. When we are all singing together at forte, after the initial buildup, I tingle all over. It is one of the most exciting experiences I have ever felt, and I feel it when I sing with the group.”

The concerts, “Songs of Connection: The Ties That Bind,” will be performed on Dec. 10 (St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Palo Alto) and Dec. 18 (Mission Santa Clara). “Focusing on how we are drawn together as family, friends, communities, and even pen pals, the repertoire explores the beauty and struggle of relationships and the time and work underlying meaningful connection.” Tickets are $10–$40, available in advance.

Peninsula Women’s Chorus
Peninsula Women’s Chorus at Mission Santa Clara last year | Credit: Stan Ng

Cummins’s favorite is arranged by Susan Brumfield, and the piece has been performed on previous PWC concerts as well. Of the music’s power, Cummins says, “It doesn’t happen as much when I am just listening, though it can happen then, too. But it is much better if I am singing. We can lose ourselves briefly in the musical experience where we are all one unit.”

Alto Debbie Romani speaks of the same feeling: “I sing because I’ve fallen in love with the sensation of creating harmony with my voice. Singing gives me the chance to be a part of something gorgeous and transporting and requires that I commit wholeheartedly to the group I’m singing with. Which means that not only am I part of something beautiful, but also that I’ve got the satisfaction of working hard to do something to the best of my ability.”

The rich and varied December program begins with Ysaye Barnwell’s “We Are” and Aaron Copland’s vision of gathering “At the River,” followed by Felix Mendelssohn’s contemplation of the connection to the divine, “Laudate pueri.”

Led by PWC Artistic Director Anne K. Hege, and with flutist Rachel Beetz and pianist Margaret Fondbertasse, the program continues with traditional chants and Beetz’s live and processed flute sounds in contemporary works by Pamela Z, Amy X Neuburg, Karen Siegel, Eve Beglarian, and Eva Ugalde Álvarez.

The concerts showcase the premiere of the PWC commission of Jennifer Wilseyֺ’s “Would You Like to Have It All?” detailing the beauty of female friendship by means of text gathered from PWC and crafted into a libretto by Lynn Marie Kirby and Denise Newman. The program concludes with selections from Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Hodie; Flory Jagoda’s “Ocho Kandelikas,” a Ladino song celebrating a child’s memories of Hanukkah; and a celebration of gathering found in The Highwomen’s “Crowded Table.”

Jungmee Kim, PWC’s former pianist and current marketing manager and graphic designer, explains the meaning behind the graphic she illustrated for the concert:

The poster for PWC’s December 2022 concerts | Design by Jungmee Kim

“I wanted to portray a crowded dinner table illustrating the subtle relationships between a diverse group of folks sitting at the table. You can almost hear the conversations the dinner guests are having; you can guess to whom the puppy belongs; you can definitely tell who’s the silly one of the group and who likes to tease them.

“It is a juxtaposition of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want, his Thanksgiving picture, and the emotions felt at the moment when PWC singers come together to sing in harmony, creating beautiful musical connections that are sometimes completely unexpected.”

Romani says of Eve Beglarian’s “Lullaby” on the program: “It is fiendishly difficult to memorize (and I love a good challenge) but so worthwhile. The solo line is lush, and the words are incredibly evocative as they try to capture how a mother’s love for her baby could not be greater, even if that child were Christ the King. And then the choral part, a floating medieval chant, ‘leaks in’ — as if it is directly escaping from the past.

“The chant is out of step with the modern melody and time signature, and the two might seem unrelated, but somehow the chant locks together with the soloist’s melody and forms something magically more. It’s as if the whole piece is a metaphor for choral singing. You take these elements which seem disparate, polish them, and then balance them delicately — one against the other — and let them form something glorious and unexpected and meaningful.”

Alto Lynne Haynes-Tucker adds: “Singing is the only form of music where your whole body is the instrument. When I sing, I feel fully connected to everyone and everything around me. This brings me immense joy.”

Soprano Emily Jiang says she sings “to connect with my community, my found family. I sing to experience and share the sublime.” She goes on to explain another piece on the upcoming program:

“A recent consortium commission of PWC, Karen Siegel’s ‘Despertar,’ is a mysterious sound-painting of lyrically profound Spanish text written by poet Carlos Pintado. As the haunting melody passes from part to part, the majority of the singers employ a unique vowel-changing technique to create a shimmering vocal texture that is evocative of this English translation of the original Spanish: ‘To awaken and see oneself only in the seed, in its conscience, striving, and knowing that nothing of this exists.’”

Anne K. Hege
PWC Artistic Director Anne K. Hege conducting Voci Women’s Vocal Ensemble | Credit: Myron Yeung

Soprano Robin Mulgannon has sung with PWC for over four decades, and she says the experience “has touched all areas of my life ... performing the music has fueled me, at times bringing me joy and exhilaration. At other times, it’s been my solace and refuge. I can’t think who I would have become without singing with the Peninsula Women’s Chorus.”

Artistic Director Anne K. Hege told SF Classical Voice:

This fall is my first concert directing PWC where we have had rehearsals in person from our first rehearsal. I am reminded of what a difference it makes to create music and community together and how so much of this is about sharing physical space. This season has reminded me that I can never predict how pieces will impact each other when programmed together.

Like a party where guests find connections you had no inkling existed, these pieces together have awakened something in each other. The vision for our future that Ysaye Barnwell describes in ‘We Are’ echoes Eve Beglarian’s description of Mary’s love as a mother in her work ‘Lullaby.’ Copland’s depiction of the melody of peace sung while gathering with the saints by the river is also the angels singing in Brumfield’s ‘No Time’ and the home we journey toward.

Karen Siegel’s ‘canto de estrellas,’ or song of the stars, could be Barnwell’s morning star rising, singing to the universe who we are. I have loved how these pieces have begun to speak to each other. It has reminded me of how sharing space can inspire connection. That is what this concert is about.”