Southwest Women’s Chorus- Dynamic and Dazzling

Southwest Women's Chorus performing at the Temecula Theater (2018). Shawna Sarnowski Photography
The choir that took on staging, costuming, and Broadway medleys to great effect.

Something you do with your choir that others might find strange:

Insist that choir members practice a “Julia Child” voice to get used to the concept of “Open Throat” singing. We also warm up with “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” on lip trill.


Choir Name: Southwest Women’s Chorus
Location: Temecula, CA
Style: Style(s): jazz, gospel, a cappella, classical, etc.
Number of singers: 30
Number of years in operation: 19
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A turning point in your performances

Last year, we looked at what we could do about reduced audience attention span (a universal issue) and formed a Visual Group of singers. Their charter was to brighten up our stage appearance via staging, curtain use, costuming, choreography, and other methods. This has been a major turning point for us and will guide the chorus into the future.

A favorite piece of repertoire & why

Here are four!

  • ‘Bogoroditse Devo’ – Rachmaninoff Vespers (if one can only have one, this would be it). Great harmonies, soaring lines, wide dynamic range – this song has it all. Listen here!
  • ‘Carols and Lullabies’ – Susa. A great collection of songs, widely varied, and all interesting to sing.
  • ‘We Rise Again’ – Dubinsky, arr. Smith. Inspirational.
  • ‘Wana Baraka’ – arr Kirchner. Great example of layered African music that builds and builds.

A favorite inspirational quote:

Here are some of many:

  • “The woods would be quiet if no bird sang but the one who sang best.” – Henry Van Dyke
  • “You have to respect your audience. Without them, you’re essentially standing alone, singing to yourself” – K.D. Lang
  • “I tried to catch the eye of everyone around me who wasn’t a soprano. I get it. Sopranos don’t feel this. You hear it, but you don’t feel it. You don’t know that those lowly peasants making a nice vocal cushion for you to step on had parts that were every bit as rapturous as yours.” -Stacy Horn, (Imperfect Harmony: Singing Through Life’s Sharps and Flats)

What is your audition process?

First, sing Happy Birthday unaccompanied starting on middle C. This instantly tells me if a singer can manage mix-to-head transitions, as well as the ability to stay on pitch. If we get past that, then I do 5-note patterns on “ah” moving down and moving up to determine their usable range. Finally, they sing Frere Jacques (any language – we had Swedish once) in various places of their range to see where they are most comfortable and where I think they are most effective.

How does your choir bond as a group?

The bond at the rehearsals is enhanced through social activities like dinners, volunteering in the community, and through sectional rehearsals at members’ houses.

A turning point in the life of your choir?

Around 5 years or so ago, I made a list of all the tasks that I would continue to do and all the tasks that needed to be done by chorus volunteers. As the founder, I had gradually taken on too much. After the transition, we discovered as a group that this approach worked out very well.

Promotional flyer showing Southwest Women’s Chorus singing on stage at the Temecula Theater (2018).

An emotional moment you had in a performance?

Each time we perform “We Rise Again”, it grabs me, the chorus, and – I hope – the audience. It’s such an inspirational song.

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

Tell the occasional joke. Talk in depth about singing mechanics. Emphasize that when their joining documents said that they needed to be prepared at each rehearsal, and that I was not going to bang out notes, I meant it.

A funny moment in rehearsal:

Totally non-musical. When under hormone treatment preceding cancer radiation, I experienced hot flashes. When you’re a guy and this happens in front of all these women, you can imagine the Schadenfreude (‘spiteful joy’) that ensued.

A challenging performance and how you faced it.

We performed the Mamma Mia medley with a backing track that was poorly designed. I made a number of changes to allow me to hear what I needed to hear in my monitor. It took everything I had to make it work, but it did, and it was great.

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

There are so many. I would have to list three Broadway medleys as special: Wicked, Les Miz, and Mamma Mia.

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