Sight- Reading has nothing on this choir!

The Peninsula Girls Chorus developing vital musicianship skills through creative exercises and the Kodaly approach.

What is something you do in rehearsals that surprises new members? 

Crazy and weird warmups. One of our favorites is taken from Rollo Dilworth’s book “Choir Builders 1”. We teach this rhyme to all of choristers to help them with posture:

“Shoulders are down, feet firmly on the ground, with slightly bended knee. My back is straight, to balance my weight; my arms are hanging free. Lifting of the chest helps me breathe my best; now there’s just one last thing. . .  Hold my head upright and focus my sight; now I am ready to SING!”


Choir Name: Peninsula Girls Chorus
Location: Burlingame, CA
Style: Classical, folk, traditional and non-traditional choral, world music
Number of singers: 230
Ages: 6-18
Find out more on our website!

A favorite inspirational quote?

“If you fight for your limitations, you get to keep them”.

This is from trainer, Jillian Michaels. She has many, many quotes that are applicable for choir.

A turning point in the life of your choir?  

It’s always a process, but when members become strong enough sight-readers we then spend more time on interpretation and less time on learning their parts.

What methods do you use to help singers with sight-reading?

All of our conductors are trained in the Kodaly approach to musicianship. We use the tools most associated with this approach:  hand signs, rhythm names and lots of solfege (associating syllables with notes in the scale). 

How does your choir approach a new piece of music?

It depends on the piece. We use a variety of approaches including: listening to a recording of the piece, delving into the meaning of the text, learning about the composer or the context in which a piece was written, or exploring how the piece fits into the theme of our upcoming concert.

Peninsula Girls Chorus performing the traditional Zulu song “Bhombella” (2017).

What does a typical rehearsal look like for your choir?

Here it is!

  • Roll & Announcements
  • Warmups
  • Sight-reading
  • Repertoire
  • Repertoire!

Sometimes sight reading is done at a different time in the rehearsal, particularly if I’m pulling the sight reading from one of the pieces of repertoire, which I like to do as often as I can. Sometimes we break into sectionals, depending on where we are in learning the music. 

A funny moment in rehearsal?

I was trying to encourage a singer who had a solo. Her choir mates were saying how she must be nervous to sing in front of a such a large audience. I told the choir that she didn’t seem nervous at all and she looked at me and said, “I was terrified”.

How does your choir bond as a group? 

By singing together, of course! We also have an all-chorus picnic and a week-long summer day camp. The older girls enjoy a weekend retreat off-site and tour together both domestically and internationally.

Peninsula Girls Chorus warming up for their “Carols & Candlelight” concert (2019).

How long has your choir been touring? Any tips for other choirs looking to do the same?

We’ve been touring since 2001. A recommendation is to figure out the goals of your tour and what types of experiences you want for your choir before deciding on the structure of the days. It can be tricky finding a balance between down time and music making. Be sure to build in time for recovery if there are long hours of travel to get to your destination and consider giving the chaperones some time off where they can socialize and/or rest. 

What was one lesson you learned from being in a competition?

There are lots of different ways to “do” choir. Being expressive goes a long way toward a positive impression of the sound.

What was a very special performance and what made it special?

One of our most special performances was when we sang as the opening choir at a concert in the Sydney Opera House. It was such an experience to be in an iconic venue, performing music that we love… It was exhilarating. Many of the girls who went on that trip still mention it as being one of the best tours we’ve done. 

Any particularly emotional performances?

I’ve been brought to tears many times in performance, and I get goosebumps anytime the choir performs something with a high level of musicality and feeling. One particularly moving moment was conducting “Music in my Mother’s House” as a dedication to our Chorus Manager who had just passed away.

A favorite piece of repertoire & why

‘Nigra Sum’ by Pablo Casals. I never got tired of rehearsing it; there was always something more to learn from the piece.

What is your audition process?

1. Warmups/vocalises to access range and clarity.
2. Sing a song of my choosing (usually, simple and melodic)
3. Sing a song of the singer’s choosing (one verse, also gives me insight into what they like)
4. Sight singing excerpt
5. Interview questions like: What do you like about singing in choir?
What other activities do you do? Do you play an instrument, etc?

6. To assess part-singing readiness in younger singers, I sing a canon with them (Row, row, row your boat) or ask them to sing the melody of “Joy to the World” while I sing a harmony part.

We are so impressed with the size of your choir! Any recommendations for choirs looking to bring aboard more members?

The best PR is word of mouth…families who have a good experience love to share that with their friends. We’ve worked hard at creating community-building experiences and a welcoming and safe place for all of our members. It’s not only important for us to attract new members, but of equal importance (or maybe even greater importance) is retaining the singers we have. This can be a challenge, given all of the opportunities and choices our singers have about how they will spend their time, but when our girls bond with the other singers and feel like they belong, we hope that bond will encourage them to continue to choose PGC! 

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