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San Diego Women's Chorus put their hearts into their harmony

SAN DIEGO -- Music lovers will get a big dose of Heart and Harmony this weekend, when the 70+ strong San Diego Women's Chorus (SDWC) performs their annual Spring concert.

Held at the Mission Hills United Church of Christ, 4070 Jackdaw in Mission Hills, this Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 7 pm and again Sunday, May 6, at 3 pm, board president and singing member Carin Scheinin couldn't be more proud of this year's line-up and their extra special guest, Randi Driscoll.

Driscoll, a former San Diego resident, is now a successful recording artist who lives in Los Angeles. She will sing "What Matters," her song of unconditional love and hope, in a solo performance at the beginning of Saturday's show. Driscoll originally penned the tune as a letter of condolence to the parents of Matthew Shepard.

The song was eventually recorded as a limited release single, with all proceeds going to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. See Randi's personal description of the song's journey on her website.

A quarter century of song with room for all

The Heart and Harmony concert also marks the 25th anniversary of SDWC. Launched in 1987 with 14 original members in the founder's livingroom, the chorus has seen lots of changes over the years, but has managed to stay afloat, even during tough financial times.

"Twenty five years for any company or organization - especially an arts organization - is a really long time," Scheinin reflected.

To honor this milestone, Saturday's concert will also include a special recognition from GALA, the national organization of gay choruses. National Representative Jane Krause, a member of the Seattle Women's Chorus, will be on hand to bestow the honors.

A member since the very first year, Karen Kaufman holds the record, because although she has missed a concert here and there, she hasn't ever sat out a whole season, and she's not planning on leaving any time soon. The 25th anniversary for her brings with it a lot of memories, some ups and downs, but mostly good times.

"It is a time to reflect for me," Kaufman said. "A number of people who had been gone for a long time came back for this season so it has been a reunion of sorts, a time to reminisce."

Artistic Director Christopher Allen has been at the musical helm of SDWC for a large chunk of those 25 years. "It has been an amazing ride these last 16 years," Allen said. "I've never been prouder than I am, to see such a great group of women as we will have on stage this weekend. The best ever, and they are so underserved.

"It's such an interesting mix of women this year, it's incredible," he continued. "I've never seen a group I worked with that cared for each other so much. They step up to the plate every time.

"I've worked with the symphony and the opera, but I'm always at home with the women's chorus. My mother is smiling down from heaven with me being around so many women," he said, laughing.

"Chris deserves a lot of credit," Kaufman said. "He has so much talent, but he also makes things fun."

SDWC has seen tremendous growth over the last two years, going from a membership size of approximately 50 singing members to over 70 this season. Scheinin sees many reasons for this growth, and is thankful that the structural policy changes the board put into place in recent years easily accommodated such a rapid expansion.

"We were really worried [about growing so quickly] at first," Scheinin explained. "We've always had a family feel, but we've been able to retain that as the season goes along.

"We just had our annual retreat and bonded really well and got to know each other. There are more people to get to know, but we are still a family," she said.

Kaufman was at first hesitant when asked about the impact the chorus' current size had, especially for someone who came from a chorus of 15 people. "It's good," she said. "A little scary, but overall, it's a good thing. We are a better chorus. We have better sound with more people and we have more talent and more energy."

Although "lesbian identified," the Women's Chorus is just that; a women's chorus.

"We started our roots in the LGBT community but we are open to all women who love to sing and wish to support our mission, which includes equality and human rights for all," Scheinin said.

"We are one-third straight, but we have bisexual women, queer women, women who wish to have no labels, and of course, lesbians. There has been a shift in the last seven to ten years where it has become more and more okay for straight women wanting to be associated.

"We have a lot of mother-daughter teams [four to be exact] and other family members. Our youngest singer is 17 and our oldest is 75, so that is quite an age span," she said.

This weekend's performances will be quite diverse, with popular numbers performed by soloists, duets, groups, a poetry reading, and the show will even include instruments, great choreography and some dancing, which, according to Scheinin, is not typical for SDWC.

Kaufman and Scheinin are both looking forward to the excitement the choreography of the "Born This Way" number will bring to their stage.

"We wanted to show off other talents that the group has, aside from their singing," Scheinin said.

There will also be a fundraising aspect to the show, which helps in part, to get the group to the GALA chorus conference in Denver this July. GALA conducts these conferences every four years and this year, both the Gay Men's Chorus and SDWC will be in attendance. That is not always the case.

A silent auction at both concerts will offer lots of fun gifts and excursions. Make sure you arrive early to participate.

Always room for more and NO auditions

Despite their rapid growth, the Chorus is always looking for new members.

They have three chorus seasons: Fall, which runs Sept - Dec and leads up to their winter concert; Spring, Jan - May, which leads up to the Spring show; and a short summer season of June and July, which coincides with Pride events.

Whether you want to sing with them or just be involved in any way you can, they will welcome you with open arms.

"We create real quality music and are proud that we have a no-audition policy," Scheinin explained. "People just love singing and being a part of the community. There is no fear of rejection. All you need is commitment, a love of singing, and be able to 'match-pitch' to a piano."

She is serious about the no-audition policy. If you love to sing, that is the most important thing. Allen will put applicants through the "match-pitch" evolution and then determine which group is the best fit, but no one will be sent away.

Women interested in joining the chorus are urged to email them (carins@sdwc.org), go to the website, or just show up at their weekly rehearsals (currently on Sundays from 4 - 7 pm). They have an open door policy. The next rehearsal is May 20, 2012 at Mission Hills Church of Christ.

The group is looking for women who would like to sing over the summer, but they are also in need of board members to help steer their ship. They currently have seven board members, but Scheinin says the goal is really between 8 and 10.

There is no requirement to be female -- or to sing with the group -- in order to be a board member. Having non-singing board members is something Scheinin appreciates, because as she knows first hand, it is a lot of work to balance both and there is a lot to do.

"We've had an incredible influx of new members which has ushered in a new vitality to the group," Scheinin said. "Our board can't do everything, so many of the new members have been taking projects and just running with them."

If You Go

Heart and Harmony, San Diego Women's Chorus' 25th Anniversary Spring concert will be held this Saturday, May 5, 2012, at 7 pm and again at 3 pm on Sunday, May 6, at Mission Hills Church of Christ, 4070 Jackdaw (at corner of Fort Stockton) in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego.

To buy tickets, click HERE. Rumor has it that Saturday night is now SOLD OUT, but Sunday tickets are still available!

Arrive early to get parking, good seats and to participate in the silent auction.

For more information about the San Diego Women's Chorus, visit their website. You can also follow them on Facebook or on Twitter.

Photo credits: Top: My Amor Photos; Middle and Bottom: Sherri Ginand.