Friday, February 13, 2015

Seattle Women's Chorus: Reel Women - Reel great singing, some reel weird song choices

Hooray for Hollywood - Seattle Women's Chorus (Conrado Tapado of eQuality Images)
This past weekend, Seattle Women’s Chorus presented several nights of shows at the Cornish Playhouse with the theme Reel Women. This concert shows that the Chorus continues to grow in depth and execution. It was the best they have sounded, as their cohesion and comfort as a chorus deepens!

The focus was on movies and music from movies. Some terrific song choices were made and a lot of fun clips of movies accompanied many of the choral arrangements. So, Let the River Run by Carly Simon included footage of the movie Working Girl which featured the song. And I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton was shown along with footage of the movie The Bodyguard.

A special partnership was highlighted with Reel Grrls, a non-profit that encourages young girls to participate in movie-making. Two shorts were included that perfectly encapsulated the subject matter and point-of-view of these young filmmakers.

Some of the highest highlights included another beautiful pairing of Maureen Warren and Virginia Daugherty, singing Dome Epais from the opera Lakme, which has been used often in films. They sounded sublime. Their execution would stand up in any operatic evening anywhere in the world, I would think! Just gorgeous.
Also, the arrangements for I Will Always Love You and Bolero (featured in the movie Paradise Road) were wonderful choral choices. The former says it’s arranged by Mac Huff, but it’s not clear if that is the choral arrangement, and the latter arrangement is by SWC’s Associate Artistic Director Eric Lane Barnes. Bolero was particularly fun because of the acapella arrangement that the Chorus executed flawlessly, with a fun Alto Two line.

The soloists were great, and the general message of empowerment was appreciated. Having said that, there are a few aspects that were puzzling, and at least one that was a bit off-putting.

The very first song, Hooray for Hollywood, opened the evening on a great, fun note, with a troupe of chorus dancers, and great energy. But some of that energy was immediately dampened by choosing to call out the rampant misogyny of the Hollywood establishment for not hiring women or honoring them in ceremonies like the Academy Awards.

I am as outraged as the next woman about the dearth of recognition for creative women. I don’t know if I’m more aware than others, and if that somehow therefore means that other women need to be “educated” on the issue, but while I thought the specific segment that described the development of the Bechdel Test from one cartoon was terrific, I thought that much of the other information could also have been included within that kind of specific segment (framed as a conversation between women) and segregated into a more educational moment.

By spreading out the sense of miffed feminism throughout, it dampened the execution of the evening and took some of the celebration out. The experience made it feel like the audience was being lectured at.

So, then the song choices, out of the myriad of songs that might have been chosen, seemed odd since there was a huge block of Disney film songs – many clearly in anti-feminist Disney cartoons – and another huge block of… James Bond songs. If I were cataloguing films where women were empowered, I would think Bond movies would be some of the least empowering.

That bewildering concert programming leads back to the people doing the artistic programming, and brought even more attention, through pointing out how “only 16 percent of women hold positions of creative power in Hollywood” and other such facts, that two men do all that decision-making for the Women’s Chorus.

As much as I care for and admire Dennis Coleman and Eric Lane Barnes, and that is quite a considerable lot (I have sung with SWC for five years, though I am not currently a member), I wonder whether some female perspectives, particularly in program development, might not be helpful and empowering. If I were looking to do a program of movie music, Disney cartoons and Bond movies would probably be some of the last music I would seek to include.

I seriously hesitate to write the second half of this review. I am only one person, this is only one opinion. But in the context of being asked to “review” the experience, I feel it would be wrong not to include those observations.

If you disagree, please feel free to let me know via email at or writing a letter to SGN for publication.

The Women's Chorus is clearly continuing to improve professionally and I look forward to their next concert in October.

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