Sisterhood of the Traveling Sweaters

“A performance is a celebration [for choirs] of what has already happened.” The Ohio Women’s Ensemble (OWE) heard these uplifting words from Jo-Anne van der Vat-Chromy on OWE’s annual spring break tour, when the highly talented sisters-in-song stopped to sing with James Madison University’s Women’s Chorus. OWE certainly had a lot of fun on this trip and, of course, plenty to celebrate as a group.

Photo courtesy: Lindsey Lemons

Prior to leaving for tour, OWE gave their grand Ohio Music Education Association (OMEA) Professional Development Conference performance in Cincinnati, OH. Making the cut to perform at such a high-caliber conference was a huge accomplishment; preparing for it was an even bigger accomplishment. With all the hard work the 113 members of OWE (and 64 members who actually came on tour) did prior to last week, every moment of the so-called ‘alternative spring break’ was well-worth the celebration.

Not only did OWE celebrate through performance but through social experience, too! Women’s Ensemble Tour (or #WETour2k16, according to social media) took the powerhouse singing sisters, dressed in green sweaters, to many cities: Canton, OH; Pittsburgh, PA; Philadelphia, PA; Glen Mills, PA; Washington, DC; Falls Church, VA and Harrisonburg, VA. Each city was filled with memorable moments for all who went.

OWE left early morning on Sunday, February 27th, dressed in well-fit denim and black tour shirts. The first stop wasn’t too far from Athens, and OWE got to show off its skills for some high school singers in Canton, OH ... not far from where a number of OWE girls grew up. After that, the group stayed in the Canton area to perform its ten-song set at Westbrook Methodist Church. The next morning the women got to experience the Pittsburgh Strip District for lunch and activities. After lunch, the choir hopped back on the charter bus, and finally made it to the east coast, safely arriving in Philadelphia in the evening.

Photo courtesy: Lindsey Lemons

Once OWE was finally eastbound, it was time for singing clinics (chances to rehearse for other choir directors, and be critiqued to improve musicality), more high school workshops, performances and nothing was more exciting than a free day in Washington DC!

The first east coast clinic was lead by Christine Bass and took place at Temple University. Bass was thrilled to work with a female choir, having conducted mostly male and mixed choirs in the past. “I love working with women because even though there is that element that you could have a lot of drama, but there is also this element of a lot of passion, and a lot of care and this means something to me. And you could go really far with it,” Bass said. Working with a female conductor got members of the women’s group very excited, especially OWE President and senior music education major, Maggie Fahey. “A lot of times, women’s choirs are only expected to be performing pretty songs that are slow, beautiful, dainty and feminine. And there’s a certain value to that, for sure, but that’s only a partial picture of what women’s music can and should look like,” Fahey said. In her eyes, she wants to challenge the norm of what women’s choirs should look like in her music teaching career.

Later OWE got to use the skills it had learned at Temple to give a voluntary performance at an assisted living center in Glen Mills, PA.  

After such an empowering clinic, OWE moved along and got to teach Falls Church, VA high schoolers one of their all-time favorite songs, “Bring Me Little Water Silvy.” Then shortly after that, the choir finally made it to its last music stop at JMU. There, OWE got to have an exchange-like clinic with its own WC at JMU’s Forbes Center for The Performing Arts, learn some of its music and gain wisdom from one of their directors: van der Vat-Chromy.

With so much musical action going on for OWE during spring break, the group needed a change of pace from performing and some time in DC.

Photo courtesy: Emily Luderman

In previous years, OWE spent much of its time on tour going from performance to performance. Free days were included, but very little time was available for choir members to relax and enjoy time together. This year, the entire free Tuesday in DC gave the choir members time to get to know one another, do tourist activities, and (of course) shop. These all happened to be great celebration activities for the members after so much hard work.

Senior music education major, Chloe Reis, loved having the free day in DC to spend time with some of her closest friends. “[The down time] kept us fresh for performances, and gave us a lot more more sisterhood time -- even if it was in the hotel rooms before it was too late,” Reis said. The best highlight for her was spending walking around DC with her friends, as she will be parting ways from them in a few months. Senior world religions major and close friend of Reis, Jess Stewart, felt the same way about tour, and because of that did not consider it to be an ‘alternative spring break’ by any means. “I’ve been in this group for four years now, and all my closest friends are in this group. So for me it doesn’t feel like an alternative spring break, because I’m going on a trip with my closest friends anyways.”  

While the group continues to grow in musicianship, it always continues to grow in sisterhood. Just as a number of members, who happen to be a tight-knit group of friends, will soon graduate, this tour allowed for younger members and future group leaders to form similar bonds.

Photo courtesy: Lindsey Lemons

Junior psychology major, Taylor Baird, enjoyed getting to know other members of the choir she’s been in since freshman year. “My favorite thing about tour [this year] was getting to know people people I didn’t know before. The cool thing about tour is that you never know who you are going to end up with.” One of her favorite things about the group is seeing how performing (especially on tour) helps even the shyest girl find her confidence. “I see girls who come in here who are really shy and quiet, then they just light up on stage, and that’s so cool to see.”

After tour, people can expect OWE to perform fresh music and even a few pop tunes that’ll appeal to even non-musicians. In these final performances, each member will have a lot to celebrate as she sings, whether that be musical accomplishments or sisterhood ones.

Want to come along for a celebratory tour with the Ohio Women’s Ensemble next year? As soon as it’s time to register for classes, any OU woman with singing and music-reading experience can register to be a member in order to come along for the fun. No audition necessary, and all majors welcome!

P.S. Two members even chose to celebrate their successes by getting a tour of the White House!

Um… Yup, #WETour2k16

Photo courtesy: Logan Stark