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May 1, 2004

San Francisco Chronicle

It seemed an unlikely place to hear the sweet sound of music, this bustling stretch of Page Street. But there it was late on a Tuesday afternoon, a chorus of treble voices gliding through opened windows, a delicate cloud of sound drifting over screeching buses, rumbling delivery trucks, honking cars. It was coming from the middle of the block, from a handsome white building whose front door could be found under a red awning stretched regally across the sidewalk -- the home of the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

The girls will be singing in Chinese, English, Latin and Spanish -- four of the 16 languages in their repertoire. They will also be singing the sounds of crickets, night creatures and flowing water when they perform five pieces based on ancient Chinese poems and folk songs, including one titled "Picking the Seedpods of the Lotus.''

During a recent rehearsal of "Chinese Poems for Children's Choruses,'' 15- year-old Jennifer Che of El Cerrito raised her hand, concerned about how the members of Chorissima were pronouncing "si," one of the Chinese words in an ancient folk song about the people who once lived on the Chile Plains of inner Mongolia. Conductor Susan McMane, who joined the San Francisco Girls Chorus three years ago as artistic director, called for the group's attention. "We're getting some Chinese help here,'' she told the group. Jennifer and 13-year-old sister Alice coached their fellow singers in the correct pronunciation. McMane helped, pointing out the subtle differences she could hear between the right and wrong pronunciations.

"What extraordinary voices,'' Michael Tilson Thomas, the Symphony's music director, has said. "Only the highest standards of professional training can produce such voices.'' The chorus, whose budget is $1.5 million a year, is committed to expanding the library of music for treble voices by commissioning new works. It has commissioned 21 pieces since it was founded in 1978. The Thursday concert will mark the world premieres of two such pieces: "Anne Frank: A Living Voice,'' by Linda Tutas Haugen, and "Runes: Three Choral Songs on Elizabethan Verses,'' by Alice Parker.

"When we first started commissioning pieces, it was because there wasn't enough challenging music for treble voice for our girls,'' said Elizabeth Avakian, who has been the director of the chorus school for 15 years. "Now we commission pieces because we feel that it's part of our mission to be able to help create pieces for the treble voice, for these girls. If we don't commission music, there won't be new music written for our posterity.'' More

Posted by acapnews at May 1, 2004 8:48 AM


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