Cantigas founder directs final concert in Hoboken May 19
by Rachel Chang for Vocal Area Network
Posted May 11, 2018

Joan LitmanIn a yellow school room in the middle of Hoboken, NJ, a diverse group of women gather every Thursday night. There are students, teachers, architects, writers, brokers, consultants, medical professionals and small business owners--ranging in age from teens to seniors--who were born in Venezuela, Japan, Australia, Poland, New Zealand and Taiwan. Whether they walked a few blocks over from their childhood homes or zipped in from their Manhattan corporate jobs, when they start singing together as Cantigas Women’s Choir, it’s clear they’re all here because of their shared admiration for artistic director, Joan Litman.

Litman directs her final Cantigas concert this spring before she retires from the group she has led for 16 years. Her final performance, entitled "Of Heaven and Earth, Land and Sea", will be at Hoboken’s St. Matthew Trinity Church on May 19.

“The uniqueness of Cantigas is because of Joany,” says para-professional Lynne Connell, a soprano in her 70s who has been with the group for 15 years. “Not only is Joany an outstanding conductor and artistic director, who radiates flair and skill, but she also has an infectious way of teaching and drawing the very best out of us.”

A long-time Jersey City resident originally from California, Litman founded Cantigas in 2002 while she was music director at Mustard Seed School in Hoboken. With the tradition of women’s singing prominent in so many cultures, she sought to bring diverse female voices together in the Hudson Country area and perform a broad repertoire of global music with the purpose of social good. Cantigas regularly performs for community groups, including the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton, NJ, and the Cancer Survivors group in Bayonne, NJ.

“In addition to learning about world music and the cultures from which it emanates, Joany teaches us so much more each week,” says writer and editor Ellen Sherman, 61, an alto from Merion, PA, who has been singing for nine years. “She teaches us to listen to each other--not only when we are singing--to care deeply about people and issues and to value the wonderful community of women that comprises Cantigas.”

As the group grew in size and scope, Litman never lost the personal touch with each member. “At my first Cantigas rehearsal, Joany would catch my eye and give me a wink and give me little check-ins,” says music educator Andrea Gunden, 35, who sang both alto and soprano for eight years with the group and served as board president. “I felt so important and needed! But what struck me in the following weeks was the realizations that she was doing this with 50 different women at once.” Gunden, who’s originally from Lovingston, VA, now lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and will travel back to be part of Litman’s final concert.

The international reach of Cantigas stems from Litman’s passion and expertise in global music education, including a seven-month sabbatical in Damascus, Syria, in 2010. The group has performed throughout the northeastern United States and also attracted international attention with Syrian composer Wassim Ibrahim who lives in Poland writing a piece for Cantigas in 2015 and renowned Argentine composer Leonardo San Juan guest directing the choir in 2010 and 2014. Cantigas even traveled to Buenos Aires in the summer of 2016 for two performances.

One of the family members who joined the trip as a guest was middle school student Lilly Marsh, who is 13--and now singing in the group for the first time this year. Her mom, Jennifer, was pregnant with Lilly in her second year of Cantigas and more than a decade later, Lilly is one of the youngest members. But even she recognizes the infectiousness of Litman’s spirit.

“I was a bit hesitant to join the choir at first, but Joany makes everyone feel really comfortable,” the teen soprano says. “She can tell us funny stories and make us laugh, but then get right back to teaching us the music. Joany has also helped make the choir such an amazingly close community and no one is ever going to forget that.”

Cantigas Women’s Choir’s spring concert will be at St. Matthew Trinity Church at 57 Eighth Street in Hoboken on Saturday, May 19, at 7:30 PM. For more about the group, visit cantigas.net. A legacy fund has also been set up in Litman’s name. Visit bit.ly/joanlitmanfund for more information.

Rachel Chang handles publicity for Cantigas Women's Choir.