VOX Femina makes diversity sing
> BY ALEXANDER VARTY
Although VOX Femina is a women’s choir, its aspirations extend to more than 51 percent of the world’s population. “Through music, we aim to create a world that affirms the worth and dignity of every person” is the credo that the Los Angeles– based ensemble proudly embraces, and if there’s a single word that best defines the group, it’s diversity.
“We initially had the words ‘lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women’ in our mission statement, serving those particular populations,” VOX Femina’s artistic director, Iris Levine, explains, speaking to the Straight from her California State Polytechnic University office in Pomona. “When we started, we wanted to make sure it was a safe space for women of any sexual preference. As things evolved, we realized that some of the areas that we were delving into were repertoire, connecting with international choruses, connecting across crosscultural lines. And with the diversity of Los Angeles itself, we quickly realized that it was really about affirming the worth and dignity of every person. So that’s where it came from.
“We have no idea who in our group is lesbian or bisexual,” Levine continues. “But if you want to be with us because of the wonderful things that we do both musically and socially, then please do come and see us and be a part of our world.”
Vancouver audiences will get to do just that this weekend when VOX Femina joins Iceland’s Gardabaer Women’s Choir, Japan’s Frisches Ei, and our own Elektra Women’s Choir at the triennial Tapestry International Celebration of Women’s Choirs. By pulling songs from VOX Femina’s recent tribute to spring and its upcoming concert of music with folk roots, Levine plans to honour beauty in diversity, in terms of both the ensemble’s makeup—its members range in age from 20 to 70—and its vast repertoire.
One likely highlight will be “Scântei Solare (Solar Flares)”, by New York City composer Jonathan Pieslak. “It’s about the combination of what’s happening in the sky and on the ground as spring comes,” Levine explains. “The snow melts away and you have does coming down to drink at crystalline pools, and at night you have shooting stars that are happening. So it’s picturesque, and you’d think it would be this lush thing, but it’s not. It’s very fast, it’s very rhythmic—and it’s in Romanian.”
Levine is especially looking forward to Tapestry’s culminating Celebration Concert, in which all four choirs will join forces.
“The piece that I’m bringing is called ‘One With the Wind’,” she says. “It’s a Native American text, a Lakota text, written by a woman named Larissa Fasthorse, and the music is by a local Los Angeles composer, David O. This was a commission of ours from a number of years ago; it starts with an initial soloist, and then following that is a trio of voices who respond to the soloist, then a small group of voices who respond to the soloist, and then a larger group.…the text reflects one woman’s fight to survive and be accepted. And in Lakota tradition identity is formed in relationship to others, so the relationship of this one woman to the trio is her relationship to her immediate family, and then the small group is her distant family, and the large group is her entire community. So the basic premise of this is that no one voice stands alone, and that together, we are stronger.
“It’s a great piece,” Levine adds. “I can’t wait.”