Melodia Women’s Choir shares “Songs of Love & Hope” for a long, cold winter
by Teri Duerr for Vocal Area Network
Posted November 16, 2020

Melodia presents Songs of Love & HopeƑrom the moment Melodia Women’s Choir hit the New York City scene as a premier women’s choir approaching two decades ago, it has garnered a reputation as a group with both a gorgeous sound and an intrepid spirit. This spirit is the impetus behind the choir’s virtual concert, “Songs of Love & Hope,” a free online event happening Saturday, November 21, 2020, at 7:30 PM ET. Melodia promises to deliver “an evening of music to warm the heart and share feelings of hope” as we all enter what is undoubtedly going to be a long and difficult winter.

“It's been so daunting,” says Melodia Artistic Director Cynthia Powell, who has seen firsthand how the pandemic has upended choral music, in-person worship and live performance. “But we went about it with gusto, knowing that hundreds of people would see our presentation and derive some joy and comfort from it,” she added.

And in many ways this season has brought the choir even closer together. “We are engaged in weekly Zoom rehearsals and online social gatherings, and friendships are thriving,” said Powell. “Melodia singers who couldn't sing with us because of distance, having babies or whatever, can now participate. It was very gratifying that so many showed up and took part in our virtual choir projects. Some of them are singers we haven’t sung with for over five years!” 

At the centerpiece of “Songs of Love & Hope” will be Melodia’s debut recording of Norwegian-American composer Ola Gjeilo’s The Rose. With its soaring vocal melody supported by piano and string quartet accompaniment, it brings to life the poem of the same name by Christina Rossetti and buoys listeners through to the final line in this ode to the rose, “She sets the world on fire.” It’s a line so evocative that it inspired a Melodia contest for original art and photography to capture it, as well as the enlistment of actor Alinca Hamilton for a special reading of the poem. Instrumentalists on the new recording include pianist Taisiya Pushkar, violinists Emilie-Anne Gendron and Clara Kim, violist Stephanie Griffin and cellist Laura Andrade.

The program also features a selection of solo performances by Melodians, including renditions of pop tunes like The Beatles' Let It Be and Regina Spektor’s How; show tunes "Before It’s Over" from Dogfight, "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman and "You Are Not Alone" from Into the Woods; and the gospel hymn His Eye Is on the Sparrow by Charles H. Gabriel and Songs for the People by African-American composer Rosephanye Powell.

“I knew I wanted to do a piece by an African-American composer,” says soloist Blessings Agunwamba, who selected Songs for the People. “The lyrics were penned by 19th-century abolitionist and suffragist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. What struck me was that while it acknowledges the ‘jangle and discords’ that exist in our world, it holds firm to the belief that music can serve as the catalyst ‘to thrill the heart...with more abundant life’ and ‘girdle the world with peace’…. With a catchy tune and hopeful lyrics, what could be a better message for this year?” asks Agunwamba, who has sung with Melodia for seven years and serves on its Board of Directors.

Another African-American woman composer on the program is Florence Price, the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and the first to have her work performed by a major orchestra in the United States. Longtime Melodia pianist Taisiya Pushkar will perform To a Yellow Rose.

Rounding out the evening are some of Melodia’s favorite works from their video archive, including Dreams by Tofig Guliyev; Mas Que Nada by Jorge Ben; "Cum Sancto Spiritu" from Gloria by Antonio Vivaldi; and the moving Gaelic Blessing by John Rutter, which Melodia “sang” virtually for both the John Jay College of Criminal Justice 9/11 Memorial last September and the 35th Annual Crime Victims Candlelight Vigil in June.

Seeing the creativity and beauty of music and art being expressed online gives me hope,” says featured Melodia soloist Michelle Ammirati, who has sung with the choir for five years. “Even if it is not the same, it does make me feel connected to all the other musicians out there. I’m looking forward to the next time that we can all meet again.” Until then, join Melodia as they share our “Songs of Love & Hope” to warm the heart—and offer the world some hope, which we so need at this time.

Songs of Love & Hope,” Saturday, November 21, 2020, streaming at 7:30 PM ET. Tickets are pay-what-you-wish; suggested donation $10. Zoom information will be sent to ticket holders within 48 hours of the concert at the e-mail address used to purchase tickets. For more info, visit melodiawomenschoir.org.

Teri Duerr is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, NY.