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Innovation leads Melodia Women's Choir to international exchange
by Cynthia L. Cooper for Vocal Area Network
Posted August 30, 2005

Maria HelbekkmoAssembling fine singers, compiling repertoire, digging into the music are all essential steps on the path to getting an outstanding choral season rolling. But in addition to the usual, Melodia Women's Choir of New York City is breaking out with a daring leap of innovation, kicking off its third season with an intensive three-day workshop with one of Europe's leading choral conductors.

Melodia, founded in 2003 by Jennifer Clarke (who also serves as producer), is conducted by Cynthia Powell, known for her extensive conducting experience in the New York region. From September 24 to 26, Melodia will reach across the seas in a unique cultural exchange, hosting Norway's Maria Gamborg Helbekkmo, the conductor of Voci Nobili, a highly-acclaimed women's choir based in Bergen. Founded by Helbekkmo in 1989, Voci Nobili has won over a dozen awards in international competitions. In New York, Helbekkmo will share some of the techniques she has used in conducting a woman's choir for the past 16 years with the much-newer Melodia.

Already recognized for a bold and beautiful sound, Melodia features 32 highly-accomplished soprano and alto voices who perform the classical repertoire and richly musical contemporary compositions. "Our singers come from a wide diversity of background and training, but are united in their love of the music," said Clarke, who also sings in the ensemble. The singers hail from colleges and communities throughout the U.S., according to Clarke, and from around the globe, including Chile, Hong Kong and Britain.

As a women's choir, a special character arises, said Powell. "The resonance of women's voices, by nature of their range and timbre, is different from that of men's voices," said Powell, who also conducts Stonewall Chorale. "There is a different 'vibe' with an all-women's group," she said. "A woman conductor can develop an especially strong bond with a women's ensemble," said Powell.

The idea of inviting Helbekkmo to lead a workshop arose when Voci Nobili performed at New York's Merkin Hall in January 2005. Clarke and Powell, who work in partnership to plan the choir's direction, had been tossing around new ideas to contemporize and enliven the choral experience, while still maintaining the traditions that make it so powerful. Building on a wave of interest in women's choral music, they envision a choir of exceptional quality and musical style, and were instantly impressed with the dynamic expressiveness of Voci Nobili. "There was a group feel that radiated total confidence," said Powell. "I loved the clarity of their sound. It was dead-on in tuning, diction and musicality."

Even though guest clinicians are a rare sight on the New York choral scene, both Powell and Clarke thought Helbekkmo -- if willing -- could offer an energizing perspective from which Melodia could reap long-term benefits. Helbekkmo agreed.

In an additional twist, instead of choosing samples for the sessions, Helbekkmo will work with Melodia on selections for its upcoming fall concert, "Twilight in the Garden of Dreams." The concert of mystical and mythological tales, which Powell will conduct, includes compositions by Gustav Holst, Meredith Monk, and a featured bicentennial recognition of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel. The program will be performed on Saturday November 19 at 8 PM at St. Peter's, 346 West 20th Street in Chelsea.

"As we grow and develop, it's a special honor to have one of the leading international conductors share her experience and artistry with us," said Clarke of the upcoming exchange with Helbekkmo. The Royal Norwegian Consulate General in New York is providing underwriting for the workshop, Clarke said.

For more about Melodia, visit www.melodiawomenschoir.org.

Cynthia L. Cooper is a freelance journalist in New York City. This is her second article for Vocal Area Network.

Content Contact: Cynthia L. Cooper.
Revision Date: August 30, 2005.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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