Part of a personal project while on tour in South Africa.
Young Women’s Chorus member and graduating senior, Maxine. Photo taken in Cape Town, South Africa.
For the past seven years, choir has been an anchor and a joy in my life. I have been singing with the Young Women’s Chorus of San Francisco for five years, and have had the opportunity to perform beautiful and powerful music all over the country and the world. Being involved in choir has taught me invaluable lessons in musicianship, technique and teamwork.
Choral music requires dozens, sometimes hundreds, of voices to mesh perfectly in order to collectively create something beautiful. Sometimes, the creative achievement is in finding a perfect unison of voices. Other times, the power is in the intricacies of the harmonies. What resonates most for me are pieces where the music’s impact is felt through a complex layering of harmonies, like in Libby Larsen’s, The Womanly Song of God. Performing this piece is a gift. I’ve been lucky enough to have performed this song during two different concert seasons and with each rehearsal and each performance, I am reminded of the healing that music can bring to the world. I feel the majesty of the music resonate within me, within the space, and within the audience. Eight-part vocal harmonies weave with overlapping lines of vocal and body percussion in order to construct a wall of lush, delicate yet powerful sound. It reminds us, the singers, of the awe-inspiring force that lives within us. Letting my voice meld into the compelling whole makes me feel utterly free.
Part of a personal project while on tour in South Africa. What piece of music have you learned to love after spending more time with it?
Young Women’s Chorus member and graduating senior, Sarah. Photo taken in Cape Town, South Africa before the final tour concert.
Something choir has given me that I’m incredibly thankful for is a deeper appreciation of music; not just choral music, but all music. I’ve learned that, in order to really get to know a piece of music that’s not a pop song, a piece of music that is maybe harder to love, you have to spend time with it. The pieces we’ve sung that I love the most are also some of the most difficult, but I love them because I’ve spent countless hours of my life devoted to understanding them, memorizing them, and learning them from the inside out.
An example of this that I have fond memories of is Angelus ad Pastores by Sulpitia Cesis. At first, I thought it was a typical religious piece of choral music, and a bit boring. After spending a whole year with it, and performing it at Carnegie Hall, I really began to appreciate its subtle complexities and beauty. If I hadn’t spent all that time learning and performing it, I never would have realized what a wonderful piece it is. Now I know that to truly appreciate a work of art, you have to put in the effort and the hours to fully understand it.
Choir has also taught me the power of diligence. With enough practice, anything can be achieved, whether it’s learning a language or memorizing a whole opera. But aside from musical skills, choir has also given me something that I’m incredibly grateful for: a community. A group of like-minded people I know I can rely on, who will help me learn a piece or translate a German menu in Austria. I’ve made what I’m sure are life-long friends, who I never would have met without this organization.
Part of a personal project while on tour in South Africa. Has singing in a chorus changed you?
Young Women’s Chorus member and graduating senior, Mila. Photo taken at Glentana, South Africa. The Young Women’s Chorus stopped here on a travel day to feel the Indian Ocean and spot some whales.
These past 6 years of being involved with YWCP have provided me with a safe place to grow, learn, and sing, for which I am eternally grateful. I first joined this organization in 8th grade, 13 years old in Allegro. At the end of the first year I was convinced to audition for YWC and, to my surprise, made it in! After spending so much time listening for little strains of music to come swirling and tumbling up the stairs from the room where that powerful group of women sang together, I was finally going to be one of them, I could sing with them. I was one of those incredible young women, it felt unbelievable, scary, and exhilarating all at once. I didn’t know that I had embarked on a journey of intense self realization and that this choir would be largely responsible for leading me to become a motivated, matured, and empowered young adult.
There is immense value in having something carry through so many different stages of your life so you can see how it changes you but also, how you change it. For me, it was my years in the Young Women’s Choral Projects. The effect this choir has had on me is incalculable, the person I’ve become is so different from who I was on my first day in this program. Although it sometimes feels like I’m a completely new person, I’d like to think I kept some of the old me too. I still laugh a lot, dance and sing, and stumble over my words sometimes when I get too excited. But through choir I’ve also found new and genuine happiness, a mature sense of self, and have become stronger mentally. And I think I’m finally starting to figure out how all of this works in collaboration to make me the most unique and best version of myself. I have always felt like I needed to section off all the different facets of my being, and only show them to individual groups. In choir I learned that I can be all of these things at once, I can be silly and also serious, spontaneous and thought out, this realization set me on the path towards being the authentic me with everyone, something I struggled with since elementary school.
Part of a personal project while on tour in South Africa. Do you have any special memories of going on choir tours?
Young Women’s Chorus member and graduating senior, Olivia. Photo taken at BBQ dinner inside Pilanesberg Game Reserve. The Chorus spent the day in open vehicle game drives.
My time in choir has been truly inspiring and incredibly rewarding. I have grown so much as an individual these past few years, becoming more confident in my abilities as a vocalist and hardworking as a member of a high-performing group. Choir has provided me the ability to get outside my comfort zone and learn new and challenging music, and has given me a greater appreciation for choral music. The friends that I have made over my six years in YWCP have grown to be some of my best friends and I love that we share such a strong bond thanks to our mutual love of music.
As a member of YWC, I have also been given the privilege to travel with the choir on tour and bring the music we have learned to a different part of the world. The time spent on tour is always so inspiring and getting to travel with such an amazing group and share such amazing music is one of my favorite parts of YWC. Our first concert in South Africa, a joint concert with local choirs in Soweto was by far one of my favorite performances. The sound and energy in the room as we felt the audience’s excitement fill the room was incredible and such a unique and special experience. I love YWCP and I am extremely grateful to choir for helping me grow both as a singer and a young woman, ready to take on the world.
Part of a personal project while on tour in South Africa. Has singing in a chorus made you who you are today?
Young Women’s Chorus charter member and graduating senior, Michelle. Photo taken at Holy Cross Anglican Church in Soweto, South Africa. The Young Women’s Chorus participated in Sunday morning service.
“Chorus has been a place where I have grown and developed into the person I am today. I’ve had so many amazing experiences touring around the world with the chorus and have created many life-long friendships with those around me. I truly could not have imagined my last 7 years without chorus. It has been such a grounding force for me and a place where I have been able to share my passion for music with others. I continue to sing not only because of my love of music but also because of the supportive and loving community the girls in this chorus have created. This community has taught me how to be my best self and has encouraged me to lift up those around me as well.”
“YWC has also helped me gain an understanding of the uniting and expressive force that music brings. Whenever we go on tour, I am amazed by the energy and response from the audiences. To see how our singing resonates with people from all around the world gives me hope and joy. YWC has truly opened my heart and mind to new experiences and friendships, and I am forever grateful for the impact this has had on my life.”
Erol Efendioglu – San Francisco Botanical Garden
The next portrait from an ongoing personal project.
Native Sons and Daughters is a photo series that tells a story of the people that live in the city in which they grew up. Each subject chooses a portrait location that is meaningful to them in some way and represents their own connection to the city.
Erol chose to take his portrait at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. He recalled to me how he used to sneak in after hours with his friends to meet at the benches in the Redwood Grove.
Located in Golden Gate Park, Strybing Arboretum opened in 1940. The Garden encompasses 55 acres and contains nearly 9,000 different kinds of plants from around the world. In 2004 the name was changed to San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum.
I grew up in the Inner Sunset district, and live in Polk Gulch now. I attended Montessori pre-school, Town School for Boys from Kindergarten to 8th grade, Lowell High School, and then UC Santa Cruz.
I chose the Botanical Garden because it was the best secret hang out spot for me and my friends in high school when we wanted to get out of the house. We developed a great game of “King of the Hill” on the benches. Basically, the last person left standing on a bench won.
The last entry from a personal project while on tour last month in New York. Who would you be today if not for chorus?
Young Women’s Chorus charter member and graduating senior, Tamlyn. Photo taken before the performance in Carnegie Hall.
“I would not be the person I am today without the Young Women’s Chorus of San Francisco. I remember walking into the audition room at only twelve years old, a middle schooler, terrified of messing up, and doubting that I would be accepted. Now, I have walked out of the rehearsal room forever, eighteen years old, a high school graduate, still terrified of messing up, but knowing that chorus has changed me forever.
Chorus has given me a voice. It has increased my confidence in my abilities in a world that seeks to tear teenage girls apart. It has helped me realize my power. Through chorus I know that I have the ability to transform others. Because of this chorus I have learned that music is unlike anything else on earth. It has powers beyond explanation. Music can move people to tears, bring people together, and can undoubtedly change the world.”
Part of a personal project while on tour last week in New York. Has singing in a chorus ever connected you to someone that doesn’t speak your language?
Young Women’s Chorus charter member and graduating senior Katrina. Photo taken on Ellis Island.
“When I first joined the Young Women’s Chorus, my nickname was Eeyore, the expressionless to the point of depression character from the Winnie the Pooh series. I was quite serious about singing, but I only really focused on singing the correct notes and rhythms. After my first voice masterclass, another chorister immediately said, “You’re just like Eeyore! This song is about happiness and love but you look so sad!” Before hearing this critique, I didn’t really understand the purpose of having expression. I saw music in a very straightforward and technical way, analyzing chord progressions and dynamics by the book. However, over time, YWC truly opened the door and showed me how universally powerful music is.
I first experienced this on our first tour to Italy. We were rehearsing in this gorgeous church in Venice, when we noticed people peeping through the gate at the entrance of the church. We only started with some simple warm-ups and yet people were flocking, trying to get a better look. Some even waited until we were done rehearsing to meet us outside. Despite the language barrier, both tourists and locals expressed their gratitude for our singing. It dawned on me that people didn’t need to know the music we were singing to enjoy our chorus. People didn’t need to speak the same language in order to feel connected through this celestial experience. Whether it was in San Francisco, Venice, Berlin, Vancouver, or Budapest, our singing connected people from all around the world, and that to me is an incredible and inimitable feeling.”
Part of a personal project while on tour in New York. Has singing in a choir affected you in a similar way?
Young Women’s Chorus charter member and graduating senior Sarah. Photo taken in Greenwich Village.
“Singing with the Young Women’s Chorus these past six years has been an invaluable experience that I know will continue to shape my life long after I leave the chorus. No words can express how thankful I am to have learned and performed such renowned and challenging repertoire at a professional level in venues all around the world.
I have learned that choral performance goes far beyond mastering a piece of music; the most rewarding part of choir is our ability to connect with entire communities, across language barriers, using nothing more than a piano and our own voices. During one particular concert in an old church in a remote German hamlet, I noticed several men with tears running down their cheeks. Our free concert that evening, it seemed, was a gift graciously received. It touched me to no end to see how deeply our music had affected them. The concert we gave in that packed German church was by no means the splashiest production we’d ever put on, but it was the most moving and meaningful.”
Part of a personal project while on tour in New York. Taken at St. Francis Xavier church.
Young Women’s Chorus charter member and graduating senior Alyssa Tsuyuki.
“The chorus has been more than an after-school activity to me. It’s been my home, my family, and so much more to me than I could have ever imagined over the past 6 years.
My first rehearsal, I was just a small kid among a sea of girls with mature and powerful voices. Yet, I wasn’t intimidated because everyone was so encouraging to each other. Even though I didn’t have a voice like all of the older girls, I felt like I was a valued member of the group, and played a vital role in making music. Over time, my voice grew to be louder, but my responsibilities within the chorus stayed the same: to make breathtakingly sensational music with my friends.
I remember, in the summer of 2015, YWC sang Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” in a small village in Germany. Our sound resonated in the large church packed full of people listening to us. After we finished and the sounds of the music dissipated, the room was silent. It was not until a few seconds after everything had stopped when the first sounds of applause began. It’s moments like these where I remember why I stayed in this chorus in the first place.”
– Alyssa Tsuyuki