Woman's chorus has an undeniable Downey connection

DOWNEY - They perform at service clubs, schools, hospitals, churches, senior centers, retirement homes, even at public concerts, with two reinforcing goals: to share their love of singing and help support vocal students with scholarships.Today they number some 315 members, representing thirteen chorus chapters found in San Diego to the south to their home bases above the Bay area. Their repertoire ranges from, but not restricted to, old standards to folk songs, from show tunes to seasonal favorites. To spice up their performances, they would interject perhaps a dance number or a whimsical costume or a comedic touch. 'They' are the members of the California Women's Chorus, Inc. (CWC), the umbrella organization comprised of women who share "a love of music and enjoy singing." They morphed from the original Mothersingers, a statewide organization that had its beginnings in the early 1930s, which soon became the PTA Mothersingers. In 1973 it incorporated and adopted its present name. Membership is open to "any woman who would like to experience the joy of singing," says its recruitment pitch, "even if you do not read music. Having a good ear for music is enough, because training and practice will be provided. What's more, no auditions are required." Gratifying its philanthropic instincts, every year CWC hands out scholarship awards to outstanding, and deserving, students pursuing vocal careers, at a state convention held in various locales. The scholars come from the college (s) affiliated with the host group. In the past three years, Riverside, San Diego, and Glendale (2011) have played hosts to the conventions. Next weekend, April 28-29, for the first time ever, CWC's state convention is being held here in Downey, at the 738-seat Downey Civic Theater. Technically, Downey is not a CWC chapter. The 53-member New Century Singers Whittier Chorus, who's hosting the convention for the fourth time, is. Nevertheless, there exists a symbiotic relationship between the two. Margery Barnings has been a Downey resident for 56 years and a retiree these past 30 years; a teacher for 24 years at Rio Hondo, Ward, and Pace, she is one of 17 second sopranos with New Century Singers Whittier (which also has 13 first sopranos and 20 altos). The fact that the CWC state convention chose Downey for its venue this year may in fact be due to her urging. Claudia Graham, the chapter publicist and one of three co-chairs (the others: Lois Foreman and Jean Sponsler) for the convention, has for twenty years served as a volunteer for the DRMC Auxiliary. And Shirley Stewart, the program emcee, has been a longtime member of CWC as well as a teacher in the Downey Unified School District. The choral group in the meantime has performed a number of times at the old OASIS as well as at the senior/community center. It holds three concerts a year-one in the fall (October), a second one in winter (the December holiday concert), and a third in May, as in next weekend. For New Century Singers Whittier members Margery and Claudia at least, next weekend can't arrive soon enough, for they see fun written all over it. They've noted the proximity of their hotel, the Embassy Suites, to the theater, unlike other venues which have often meant depending on transport services to negotiate long distances between theatre and where they're billeted. "Besides," Barnings noted, "it's a lovely venue." According to them, convention participants from all over are scheduled to check in at the hotel starting at 9am Friday, and have practically the whole day to relax and otherwise do what they want to do with their time. There's entertainment and luau that night. On Saturday morning, there will be rehearsals from 9am-1pm, then another stretch of free time between then and 6pm when they can enjoy cocktails, then their banquet at 7. That the Downey Street Faire will be taking place the same day has not escaped their notice. Sunday morning it's rehearsals once more from 9am-12noon, then they break for lunch, then the 43rd annual scholarship concert begins at 2pm. After welcoming remarks by mayor Roger Brossmer, the first half of the program will feature the six individual choral groups of New Century Singers Whittier, the Harbor Singers, Sweet Harmony (based in San Diego), the Bakersfield Keynotes, the Santa Barbara Treble Clef Chorus, and the Choral Belles Lakewood/Long Beach. Guest director is Russell Litchfield, secretary of music at Whittier College. The three scholarship winners, soprano Anush Avetisyan, baritone Brian Vu, and mezzo-soprano Meagan Martin, will sing alternately with the choirs. They will each receive $2,000 towards the pursuit of their majors at Whittier College. There are also three honorable mentions this year. After a 15-minute intermission, the whole 225-voice CWC chorus making up the 13-member CWC takes center stage and will sing eight especially selected songs "together in harmony" (the theme of the convention). Barnings says CWC has already indicated it will hold its 44th annual state convention here in Downey next year: "They really like the location."

********** Published: April 19, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 01