Coro De Cámara And LAHS Choirs Celebrate Women Composers With ‘Music She Wrote’ Concert Nov. 16-18

Coro de Camara rehearses for upcoming performances. Photo by Jessica Benge Photography

Choir members rehearse for upcoming performances. Photo by Jessica Benge Photography

Coro de Cámara

Quick quiz: How many women composers can you name? If your answer is not many, you’re not alone. Although women have composed music since at least the time of the ancient Greeks, music written by women is seldom heard, even today.

The chamber singers of Coro de Cámara will give audiences a chance to experience some of this wonderful music in their upcoming program “Music She Wrote: Celebrating Women Composers.” Concerts will be presented in two different formats at three venues:

  • 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16 in Duane Smith Auditorium Coro de Cámara will collaborate with Los Alamos High School’s Schola Cantorum and Bel Canto choirs.
  • 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 in the United Church of Santa Fe, 1804 Arroyo Chamiso Rd., Coro de Cámara will perform its concert. Before the concert begins, Dr. Nelly Case will hold a lecture at 3:30 p.m.
  • 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18 in the Unitarian Church of Los Alamos, Coro de Cámara will perform its concert. Before the concert begins, Dr. Nelly Case will hold a lecture at 3:30 p.m.

Coro de Cámara’s Artistic Director Nylea Butler-Moore said, “My inspiration for ‘Music She Wrote’ was a book my husband gave me for Christmas several years ago: Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music, by Anna Beer. Mentioned in the book are Fanny Hensel, Lili Boulanger, Maddelena Casulana and other women whose works will be performed in Coro’s program. When I read this book, I thought, ‘Wow-I went to three music schools, and in none of those programs did we ever talk about women in music.’”

A survey of 85 major U.S. orchestras revealed that in the 2016-17 concert season, only 1.3 percent of the works programmed were by women. LAHS Choir Director Jason Rutledge said, “Orchestras were criticized in the news for not programming women composers. Nylea and I decided to counter that and do a concert that was 100 percent music by women composers. We’ll be singing great choral music that also happens to be written by great women.”

The first part of Friday’s concert will feature LAHS’s award-winning Schola Cantorum mixed choir and Bel Canto women’s choir. The students will share the works of women composers ranging from the 12th-century abbess Hildegard von Bingen to Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

“This music is a great match with my Bel Canto women’s choir,” Rutledge said, “For we talk a lot about women’s empowerment. One of the selections is a musical setting by Joan Szymko of the poem ‘Call,’ by Alla Renée Bozarth, which includes the lines: ‘We women wake to move in fire. The earth shall be remade.’ It’s a call to action, a message the students can get behind.”

“And this is also a good teaching moment for my Schola Cantorum mixed chorus,” Rutledge said. “The concert allows us all to highlight women’s achievements, to realize that women composers are just as good as men, and to discuss the question: Why, then, aren’t these women composers performed?”

Schola Cantorum will take the audience on a journey through world music, ending with Canadian composer Eleanor Daley’s “For the Fallen,” a setting of a moving World War I poem for eight-part chorus and solo trumpet.

Following the high school choirs’ performances, the Coro de Cámara will present the program that will be offered Saturday and Sunday. Coro will feature a variety of music women have written, from a 17th-century motet by Isabella Leonarda to contemporary works by Gwyneth Walker, Alice Parker and Libby Larsen.

The choirs will join together for the finale: “Drinkin’ of the Wine,” a spiritual/worksong arranged by contemporary African-American composer Rosephanye Powell, and “Amid the Noise” by Nylea Butler-Moore. The Saturday and Sunday performances will feature Coro de Cámara in concert alone, singing additional works from many historical periods. Also on the program are piano solos by Natasha Stojanovska and pre-concert lectures by music historian Dr. Nelly Case.

Case, who taught courses on women composers at the Crane School of Music, said, “In my lecture, I’ll highlight representative women composers from Hildegard to the present. The earliest piece in Coro’s program is a madrigal by Maddelena Casulana, the first woman composer to have her works printed, in 1568. We’ll also hear a song by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, whose famous brother Felix considered his sister’s musical activity ‘unfeminine and inappropriate.’”

Women composers have always struggled to have their music heard, but Dr. Case says, “Lili Boulanger, whose “Soir Sur La Plaine” will feature a solo by soprano Christina Martos, was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome. Coro will also sing ‘Thanksgiving Song,’ by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in music — in 1983, 40 years after the first man won the award. Today, women still need opportunities for performance, publication, and criticism — and most important of all, women composers need role models.”

The most recent work on the program is the world premiere of Nylea Butler-Moore’s four-movement piece, “Amid the Noise,” based on excerpts from Max Ehrmann’s poem, Desiderata.

“I wrote this especially for our collaboration with the high school choruses,” Butler-Moore said. “I wanted to address the hectic, stressful world young people experience, and to encourage them to find a place of peace and hope, where they can be themselves. Desiderata is a powerful text for people of all ages looking for stillness in the midst of chaos.”

Saturday and Sunday concerts will also include piano solos by artist Natasha Stojanovska.  She will play works by Maria Szymanowska, Amy Beach, and Grażyna Bacewicz, as well as her own composition, “Phantasy for Piano,” inspired by the folk music of her native Macedonia. Come celebrate women composers with Coro de Cámara, Schola Cantorum, and Bel Canto! At the Friday concert, admission for LAHS and LAMS students with ID is $5. Saturday and Sunday tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students – available at the door or at