The weather outside is typically unimportant when we gather in virtual environments. But on Saturday, March 5, 2021, there was plenty of sunshine and warmth in the space into which Sister Cities Girlchoir (SCG) invited its loving community. The girlchoir movement based in Philadelphia, PA, Camden, NJ, and Baltimore, MD “builds communities of music makers that empower girls to occupy their unique advantage in transforming our world.” Twelve first-time composers working with composer Erin Busch had their works premiered by professional musicians (violist Kevonna Shuford, bassoonist Maya Stone, and trombonist Robyn Smith) in a colorful, fun-filled event that reminds us how vital music is to the growth and sustainability of our communities.
“At Sister Cities Girlchoir, we consider the Creative Process as a tool for social justice,” said Alysia Lee, Founder and Artistic Director of SCG. “Amplifying the voice and agency of youth, working collaboratively to elevate and clarify their ideas, and reflecting on the process every step of the way are important skills for revolution and innovation. Seeing the young singers’ ideas come to life with respect and seriousness from the professional musicians and Erin was such a beautiful moment. To validate the lived experiences of young people is a powerful and inclusive act that has transformative power.”
The girls of SCG spent four sessions with Erin Busch, working to create graphic scores that would help tell their own story of how they are experiencing the global COVID-19 pandemic as part of Choral Quest®, a series of new music and accompanying curricula for middle-level choir published by American Composers Forum and made possible with generous support from Alfred and Ann Moore.
Erin Busch, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, is dedicated to the education of women composers. Through her Young Women Composers Camp, Erin provides a two-week experience at Temple University for female and non-binary students in high school or undergraduate degrees who are focused on building composition skills. “It was so wonderful to work with these young students, all of whom brought their unique experiences to life through their graphic scores,” remarked Erin. “This kind of work is so valuable to begin at a young age–to be encouraged and given the necessary tools to express oneself through music, art, and language–and the format of the graphic score allows students to do all of these things at once, without requiring them to use traditional notation. I personally found their compositions extremely moving and powerful.”
Dream, an 8-year-old composer, created a score called Rollercoaster that told the story of her ups and downs during COVID. She clashed the colors of pink and red in a near literal representation of a rollercoaster that trombonist Robyn Smith interpreted. Dream remarked on hearing her piece for the first time, “I felt put on the spot [listening to my composition], but I was happy to get my feelings out.”
10-year-old composer Josslyn said of her work Levels of Me, also performed by Smith, “I felt proud because this was my first composition AND a professional played it.”
The concert also included original music performances, Family composed and performed by the Music & Motion Choir (a school-based choir led by SCG), and a beautiful heartwarming cover of Christy Nockels‘ Pitter Patter by the SCG staff. It all concluded with an SCG favorite by Emeli Sandé, Wonder. If there is ever any wonder of the power that music has to build community and empower young people, one only has to attend a Sister Cities Girlchoir performance to believe. It was performance artist Beyonce who famously asked, “Who runs the world?” and the young composers and their fellow singers of Sister Cities Girlchoir have answered with an emphatic, “GIRLS!”
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