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“Here I Stand"
Eriks Esenvalds: Only in Sleep [1]
Ola Gjeilo: Ave Generosa [2]
Daniel Elder: In Your Light – 365 ^, ^^ (2019), ^^^
Adam Schoenberg: Never Shall I Forget ^, ^^ (2019)
Bob Chilcott: Like a Singing Bird
Sarah Quartel: Birds’ Lullaby ^, ^^ (2016)
Claude Debussy: Salut printemps, L.24a [3] ^, ^^ (2018)
Karen Linford: Here I Stand ^^ (2016)
PinkZebra: Sing ^^ (2018)
Andrea Ramsey: Grow Little Tree

iSing Silicon Valley [choir], Mia Hamilton [1], Hannah Kloninger-Stever [2], Dana Abbo [3] (soloists), Anny Cheng, Anna Khaydarova (piano), Emily Botel, Ron Ho (violin), Lesley Robertson (viola), Warren Wu (cello), Meredith Clark (harp), Kent Reed (percussion), Jennah Delp Somers, Shane Troll (conductor)
Recording: First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, California (April 26-27, 2020) and Skywalker Studio, Marin, California (May 17-18, 2020) (^ World Premiere Recording) (^^ iSing commission) (^^^ arr. for treble voices) – 49’26
Innova Recordings 058 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Notes in English

For centuries, boy choirs dominated the world of young singer ensembles. The argument often heard was that the voices of pre-pubescent boys have a distinctly musical timbre and range. Girls, according to this view, do not have an equally distinctive voice, and, at best, sound like children who might turn into good singers when they grow up.

However, with the growth of the girls’ rights movement and the emergence of girl leaders like Malala Yousafzai (social justice) and Greta Thunberg (the environment) on the international stage, girl choirs are gaining in strength, numbers, and artistry. One of these, iSing Silicon Valley Girls’ Choir, a rapidly rising star in the music world, has just released its first album, “Here I Stand”.

There is much to admire in this intense collection of a dozen choral selections that spin in the galaxy of social and environmental issues advanced by girl activists and their supporters. The songs blend artistry with a deep sense of conviction and the drive to create change. Indeed, the album title recalls the words, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise”, uttered by reformer Martin Luther during his trial in 1521 (also reflected in a song by this title in the collection). Some 200 girls contributed to the production of the album which features a number of lyrical meditations, cries for social justice and a few lighthearted melodies.

The album begins with girl soprano Mia Hamilton, the featured soloist in Only in Sleep. The song is Eriks Esenvalds’ setting of a poem by Sara Teasdale, an early 20th century American poet. Reflected in the lyricism of Esenvalds’ melody, the poem opines that childhood can be recaptured only in dreams. Ms. Hamilton articulates this sentiment with both the innocent clarity of childhood and the wisdom of her emerging years.

Some listeners may be surprised to find so little about idealized childhood in this album. Several songs confront head-on the harsh realities that many children face every day. The song, 365, with words and music by Daniel Elder, serves as a harsh reminder that gun violence affects everyone, 365 days a year and that children as well as adults are victims of its savagery.

But nothing in this album was as affecting as Adam Schoenberg’s three-movement Never Shall I Forget, a confrontation of the horrors of the Holocaust at a time when two-thirds of American millennials cannot identify Auschwitz, according to the Washington Post.With lyrics by Charles Anthony Silvestri based on a text by Elie Wiesel, the poem describes an individual’s experiences in a death camp with chilling detail. The fresh, pure voices of girls paradoxically sing this dark narrative with chilling precision and ask, “How was it possible that the world kept silent?” The work was an iSing commission made possible through a Dale Warland Singers Commission Award.

Several songs, Like a Singing Bird, Grow Little Tree and Bird’s Lullaby, support the call for environmental activism that seems a large part of the mission of today’s girls’ movement. I was less impressed by one of the more traditional selections in the album, Debussy’s Salut printemps (or Salute to Spring) which I found a little mechanical and uninspired. However, another old song—lyrics written by Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century—fared much better, the often-performed Ave Generosa by Ola Gjeilo, with its blend of modern and medieval elements.

Probably no song on the album expresses the spirit behind iSing as sweetly as PinkZebra’s Sing, another iSing Commission. “I will reach inside/For the strength I know I carry...This is all I ask/If given the chance I will sing.”

I was surprised not to encounter more women composers represented in this collection (even PinkZebra is male), but the group is still young. If from no other source, the girls in this ensemble will be singing their own songs full of conviction and promise in the years ahead.

Linda Holt




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