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World premiere of talented New York composer Becca Schack by Melodia Women's Choir of NYC opens ears to the world
by Cynthia L. Cooper for Vocal Area Network
Posted November 14, 2007

Becca SchackBecca Schack is dressed in cargo pants and sitting on the edge of the stage with her eyes closed as Melodia Women's Choir of New York City rehearses In My End Is My Beginning. The newly-composed work by Schack will be performed in "Sweet Interlude," two concerts by Melodia that will be conducted by Cynthia Powell on November 17-18, 2007.

Commissioned by Melodia, Schack wrote the classically-styled composition based on text drawn from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. The music reflects on the reeling emotions that the 27-year-old and her close-knit family experienced during her mother's diagnosis, treatment and recovery from breast cancer two and a half years ago. A few beats after the final note, the Juilliard grad looks at the singers, mostly generational peers. "If you hear someone crying in the audience, that would be me," Schack said.

The passion emerges in an undertone, a contrast to Schack's more fizzy MTV persona. Even she admits that she doesn't fit your stereotypical image of a choral composer. "I'm probably the last thing people think about," she said.

In addition to video performances with Moby and Chris Cornell and a Gold Record with the Trans Siberian Orchestra, Schack recently issued an irreverent EDP (electronic dance pop) video on YouTube called "Cabaret License (You Can't Stop Me)" that skewers a city law against dancing in bars and gently jabs her kosher upbringing. She performs solo at clubs like Splash, will be releasing a dance CD of "EDP, triphop, trance, pop and house," acts in film, and models on the side. Clearly, Schack savors variety. "I think of myself as a crossover artist," she said. "I try to open my ears to the world." 

Even as she accompanied her mother to weekly chemo sessions, she knew she would turn to music to express her feelings. She used her choral composition, Melodia's second commission, to explore mortality, human limits, art and spirituality. "It's about how a person will walk through time and deal with nostalgia for the past, but with a glimpse of light and hope. I found it very cathartic," she said.

Melodia first connected with Schack in 2005 when she auditioned as a choral singer. "We soon discovered that Becca is an exceptional musician," said Jenny Clarke, founder and executive director of Melodia Women's Choir. For Melodia's fall 2005 concert, Schack wrote a pre-concert soundscape. "The piece she created, titled Fire and Ice, was texturally rich and set a perfect tone for the concert," said Clarke. Melodia tapped Schack to create a new work to mark its Fifth Anniversary season this year. Part of Melodia's mission, said Clarke, is to increase the choral repertoire for women's voices and to support the work of women artists. In fall 2006, Melodia presented the world premiere of a commissioned work by Allison Sniffin at Merkin Hall.

The 10-minute piece written by Schack has four contrasting movements that explore nature and the cycles of birth, life and death, explained conductor Cynthia Powell, artistic director of Melodia and its founding conductor. In the second movement pianist Kyung-A Yoo plays a percussion part by tapping on the piano lid and sides. The last movement is filled with "word paintings," such as the barely audible buzz of cicadas and a waterfall. "It's wistful and poignant," said Powell. "The four movements deal with the very essence of existence. There are no answers, just impressions, images, and memories that make us think and reflect," she said. 

In "Sweet Interlude" -- a title selected to represent the open space for creativity and renewal -- Melodia will also present Antonio Vivaldi's Gloria. This rarely-performed rendition for women's voices may reflect the original intention of the composer, said Powell, noting that he wrote the piece in the early 1700s while working at the famous Venetian Ospedale, widely-known for its all-female choir and orchestra. Melodia will also sing works by Mendelssohn, Bach, and two compositions by Eric Whitacre.

The "Sweet Interlude" concerts by Melodia Women's Choir are on Saturday, November 17 at 8 PM and Sunday, November 18 at 4 PM at St. Peter's in Chelsea, 346 West 20th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. (On November 18, senior and student tickets are available for $15.) Tickets may be ordered at www.melodiawomenschoir.org or 212-252-4134.

Cynthia L. Cooper is a journalist in New York City who has written for many publications, including Glamour, Marie Claire, Women's Enews, Tom Paine.com, Poz and Ms. She is an avid choral audience member, and on the board of Melodia Women's Choir of NYC.

Content Contact: Cynthia L. Cooper.
Revision Date: November 14, 2007.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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