Monday, January 28, 2013

Meet an SPM Member: Joy Portella

We're featuring our singers in our internal newsletter; some of them have been kind enough to let us cross-post on the blog! Today, we'll meet soprano Joy Portella.

When did you start with SPM: I sang 2005-2006 but then had to stop because I got a job that required frequent int’l and domestic travel so my schedule was too erratic to commit to SPM. I started up again just this season, though I sang as a supernumerary for a few concerts in the intervening years. It’s great to be back!

What are your professional affiliations: I don’t really have any. As background, I’ve been a communications professional for approximately 15 years – working both at public relations agencies and in-house at non-profits. I get jazzed about working for organizations or clients who are doing good things for the world. Most recently I was the director of communications at the global humanitarian organization Mercy Corps for five years, and I had the privilege of seeing MC’s work in action in many places, ranging from North Korea to post-earthquake Haiti to the drought-stricken Horn of Africa.  

Any recent professional accomplishments: I started my own company this past fall – called Minerva Strategies. I try to help organizations use smart, strategic communication to advance pro-poor development, increase access to health resources, and promote social justice.

Any recent personal news: My husband and I got a cat this summer. Her name is Prana and we’re convinced she hates us. She runs around a lot, chews up our plants, and occasionally cuddles. I just got a bike and am gearing up to join my husband on a cycling trip to Italy. I had a nasty accident 7 years ago and have not been on a bike since. I’m also not terribly coordinated, so this is both thrilling and terrifying. Last, I’m trying to be gluten-free for a good chunk of 2013. I feel healthy but a little hungry all the time. SPM snack time is not as much fun if you can’t eat gluten!

Hobbies: Vinyasa yoga, travel to almost anywhere, cooking and obsessive recipe hunting

Family members: My husband Mark who, despite being my best friend, has a limited appreciation for choral music; my mom Joyce and dad Al who worked really hard to raise their 3 daughters right and now spend a lot of time listening to FOX News at maximum volume; my sister Leslie, brother-in-law Mitch and adorable 8-yr-old niece Mia; and my sister Daria, brother-in-law Bill and their 3 sons, the eldest of whom is apparently old enough to practice law and get married, which is funny because he was just a baby 5 minutes ago. My entire family lives on the East Coast and I miss them.

Other information that people might want to know about you: I’m a Jersey girl, my name was supposed to be Olive but my parents thought better of it, I think I’d go crazy if I had to be an alto.

You can learn more about Joy by friending her on facebook or following her on Twitter. Thanks for your wonderful answers, Joy; we're glad you're part of Seattle Pro Musica!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Resonance of the Soul

I know I'm not supposed to have favorites when it comes to the music that the choir performs.  It makes the other concerts feel left out.  But in all honesty, I have been eagerly anticipating this concert all year.  Resonance will feature antiphonal music.  Let me say that again, Resonance will feature ANTIPHONAL music!  There will be singers on all sides of the audience.  You will be surrounded by sweet, sweet harmonies.  Your body will vibrate.  Your SOUL will vibrate.  What better way to spend a Saturday or Sunday night than with singers who will make your soul resonate? 

I'm sorely disappointed to be working behind the scenes during the concert and won't be able to soak in the experience with you.  Because you will be there, won't you?  Don't be silly now, here are some other reasons why you should absolutely make this concert a part of your plans this weekend:

1. Thomas Tallis' Spem in Alium  Or as we've been affectionately calling it the last few months, "Spam."   (Please feel free to loop the appropriate Monty Python sketch in your mind here.)  Joking aside though, this piece is amazing.  Spem is comprised of 40 individual voices, which is an incredible feat for any composer or choir.  Karen P. Thomas says it eloquently in her program notes: "The work is a study in contrasts: the individual voices sing and are silent in turns, sometimes alone, sometimes in choirs, sometimes calling and answering, sometimes all together, so that the work is continually presenting new sonic textures to the listener...[A]n unparalleled masterpiece of sonic architecture."  Do you see what I'm getting at with the "your soul will vibrate" comment?

2.  A World Premiere by British composer Bernard Hughes commissioned by Seattle Pro Musica with generous support from Brian and Lynn Grant.   Hughes' piece, I Sing of Love, is based off of three texts on the theme of love: the Old Testament's Song of Soloman, texts by Islamic poet Rumi, and texts from the New Testament.  Each section is related to a different theme in the music, where "I sing of love" is repeated as a mantra.  It sounds wondrous.  And this is a brand new piece!  Written just for this choir!  You can be at the very first performance of it EVER.  Isn't that exciting?

3.  Do it for the kids.  Seattle Pro Musica will be joined by three youth choirs: Seattle Girls' Choir Prime Voci, Northwest Girlchoir Ensemble, and St. James Cathedral Jubilate!  SPM is pleased to be able to include such talented young singers as part of our Education and Outreach program.  Who knows?  You may be hearing one of these young ladies at the Met someday!

I sincerely hope you can join us.  This is the type of event that absolutely cannot be recreated on a recording.  Your soul will thank you.

Seattle Pro Musica will perform Resonance on May 19th and 20th, 8pm, at St. James Cathedral, Seattle.  Please contact our office at 206.781.2766 or online at for details.  Thank you for your support!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Major Announcement - Part 2!

As we announced in our most recent email blast, Seattle Pro Musica has been invited to sing with the Seattle Symphony Chorale, Northwest Boychoir, and Seattle Symphony Orchestra for two performances of Britten’s War Requiem in June of 2013 – Britten’s Centenary. Many of you know that the War Requiem is one of the towering achievements of the 20th century, and a piece we have wanted to perform for years. This is a wonderful opportunity for us – and recognition of all the hard work we’ve done to achieve such high standards of quality.

What you don’t yet know is that next year, in our 40th anniversary season, Seattle Pro Musica will be joining the ranks of the choral elite – groups such as Chanticleer, the Dale Warland Singers, the Chicago Symphony and Chorale, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, among others. For the past 4 years, Karen has been working to position Seattle Pro Musica for an undertaking of national scope and importance – and I’m thrilled to announce that all the stars have aligned!

Our performance of the War Requiem in June 2013 will be the featured concert on a national conference of choral music luminaries – professional conductors, musicians, and arts administrators – and Seattle Pro Musica has been selected as one of the co-hosting organizations! We will be working in partnership with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorale to plan and co-host the 2013 conference of Chorus America right here in Seattle!

Chorus America is the national advocacy and leadership development organization that advances the choral field. They are headquartered in Washington DC, and serve choral conductors, administrators, board members, and singers throughout the country – most especially professional choruses and professional-level community choruses. More than 2,000 choruses, individuals, and organizations are members of Chorus America and gather annually for the national conference to network and share ideas and performances. Past conference hosts have included the groups I mentioned above: Chanticleer, the Dale Warland Singers, the Chicago Symphony and Chorale, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

In June 2013 leaders in the choral field from all over the country will gather here is Seattle – to hear Seattle’s top choirs, and to experience all that our amazing city has to offer. This is important not only for Seattle Pro Musica, but also for all the performing arts in Seattle. Hosting the Chorus America conference is an acknowledgement at a national level that Seattle Pro Musica is among the very best choirs in America. And it’s because of you, our wonderful family of supporters, singers and friends, that we have the opportunity to prove ourselves on a national stage.

Soon, we’ll be able to give you more information about how you can be involved in this project – and it’s a big one! – but today, we want to say thank you to you, our Seattle Pro Musica community. We am so grateful for these past years together, and look forward to many more!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Exciting announcement!

Today, our friends at the Seattle Symphony held an event to present their 2012-13 season - and we're delighted to announce that Seattle Pro Musica will be a part of it.

In June of 2013, Seattle Pro Musica will join the Seattle Symphony Chorale, Northwest Boychoir, and Seattle Symphony Orchestra for two performances of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem!

It's an honor to be asked to join the SSO for these performances, and a thrill to be able to announce this exciting feather in the cap of our 40th Anniversary season!  

We're looking forward to announcing more of the wonderful things we have in store for our own 2012-13 season soon - stay tuned!
You can
-take a look at the Symphony's full brochure here
-buy tickets to our upcoming concerts here

Friday, December 9, 2011

Informed Listening for Grownups!

A Guide to Seattle Pro Musica’s Celtic Christmas
December, 2011

This year, Seattle Pro Musica wanted to provide additional materials to expand your concert experience. It’s our hope that all of our concertgoers find something wonderful to enjoy about our performances, whether they’re professional musicians, musical hobbyists, or entirely new to choral music!  This listening guide is meant as a supplement to program notes, to offer special  opportunities to hear specific things during the performance.

We start our program, as is our tradition, with the women of Schola. This year’s processional, Jerusalem, is a traditional arrangement popularized by the Irish group Anúna. You can hear an excerpt of our performance here – this is from our performance on KING FM. Several embellishments – musical flourishes – can be heard very clearly in the melody line; these turns have a big place in Celtic music. You’ll hear similar embellishments in The Gallant Weaver and the soprano solo of Christus Vincit.

Following the processional, our small mixed ensemble will sing Illuminare Jerusalem. This piece starts with a tri-tone, a musical interval of three whole steps, which is historically known as diabolus in musica ("the Devil in music").  (Here's an example.)  This song is based on an ancient Scots text, which was not translated – there are unusual pronunciations of words that we use today (such as “shoot” for “shout”, “richtous” for “righteous”, “dirkness” for “darkness”, etc.), as well as words which are no longer in use., and both ancient Scots and a proper Latin pronunciation of ‘Jerusalem’. 

Tàladh Chrìosda is a Scottish Gaelic tune traditionally sung in the Hebrides at Midnight Mass. The tune is a lovely, simple one, and is used as a basis for the piece immediately following, Christ-Child’s Lullaby.  Our first soloist, Lauren Oglesby, plays the part of Mary, singing a lulling song to her child, framed by other women's voices in echo and response. As the rhythmic activity increases, the full chorus enters, growing in speed and volume into a celebratory "Alleluia!"  The middle section of the piece features a gentle tapping rhythm from some of the members of the chorus accompanying the alto, with the chorus offering occasional alleluias as response; eventually, the full chorus returns in celebration. Solo women's voices, additional incarnations of the mother Mary, sing their reactions of joy and awe – and as the chorus fades out, Lauren returns with her original lullaby, expressing doubt of her worthiness to tend to the Christ-child – an enormous responsibility.

Christus Vincit uses a very simple motif as its basis, and expands and embellishes that motif in an 8-part texture which grows to a very rich and complex climax. Some of the rhythmic embellishments are taken from Scottish folk music, such as the traditional “Scotch snap” short-long rhythm – which is especially audible when the men sing ‘imperat’ alone, about halfway through the piece.

Magnificat for Double Choir, the final piece of our first half, is possibly the least Celtic-sounding on our program, but is yet a wonderful continuation of the Celtic theme; C.V. Stanford is one of the most influential Irish composers of our time. The piece is his only setting of the Magnificat for a capella chorus, and is wonderfully fun to sing.  Listen to this short excerpt from our appearance on KING FM.

On our second half, we begin with the men – the recognizable and beautiful Suo Gan, followed by Ble rwyt t’in mynd.  Ble rwyt is full of ideal examples of the Lombard rhythm, or ‘Scotch snap’, as we heard earlier in Christus Vincit.  The simplest – and broadest – definition is “a very short note followed by a long note played in sequence”; when exaggerated rhythmically, this gives a 'snap' sound. The clearest examples are found in fiddle and pipe tunes, but our men do a very fine job!  

The ladies then take a turn with a transcription of Mouth Music – a piece in the "port-a-beul" style.  Many of the words are nonsense, and some of the phrases are nonsensical; but the words aren’t particularly important, as they were written to imitate the rhythm of specific dance tunes or styles.  Traditionally, this sort of music would be sung when the playing of a fiddle or the bagpipes was undesirable, or the instruments were unavailable.  

The Cornish Christmas Carol is a lovely, warm piece, full of unusual harmonizations that somehow work. The choir enjoyed sightreading this one, partially due to the amusing-but-informative editor’s notes in the music.  At times, we are directed to sing while “touched with awe” – and there a moment where we are instructed to sound “massive but vigorous”.  Perhaps you’ll hear both of those notes in our interpretation! You’ll definitely hear the short quote from the popular carol “The First Noel”, sung by the highest sopranos – listen for this lovely moment.

We hope these bits of information help you to enjoy our concert more deeply – and we look forward to your feedback!  And, as always, thank you for your support of Seattle Pro Musica!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Crushing it.

Next week marks our first official public event of the season - our featured event with ArtsCrush! We're holding our first open rehearsal and community sing next Wednesday. What's ArtsCrush? Press release, take it away!

"Join us this October for ARTS CRUSH, 31 days of creative adventures in art, literature, music, theatre, dance, film and more. GET CRUSHED during this extraordinary month-long festival by connecting with artists and arts groups in unique and unexpected ways. Arts Crush features hundreds of free events, special discounts and once-a-year interactive arts opportunities for all ages. Visit to join in the fun."

And here's our event description!
See? Here's Will and Stephen -
not stodgy!

"Seattle Pro Musica, one of the premier choral organizations in the Pacific Northwest, is NOT made up of a bunch of stodgy, fussy folk. We're regular people who are for making music, really solid and excellent music, in a group setting - and we bet you'll like it! Seattle Pro Musica will host a FREE open rehearsal and community sing on Wednesday, October 12 at 7pm.
Robby is not stodgy at all!
Led by our incomparable Maestra, Karen P. Thomas, we'll warm up
together, and the choir will rehearse a few pieces interactively. (This means that Karen will explain to attendees about exactly why the tenors need to tune that note, why the sopranos are too loud, why the basses need to watch the conductor, and other choral requirements.) Following a short break, we'll invite everyone into the mix to sing together! Song selections will range from beginner to intermediate, and though this event might particularly appeal to those with a background in choral music, all interested parties are invited and welcome to attend. This is a non-auditioned community event, and your voice is welcome!"
Here's the official ArtsCrush site, and here's our facebook event!  I'm really excited to see who comes out for this - I've invited all of my friends, and I can't wait for this. And - pro tip - we'll probably go out for an unofficial, non-hosted beverage following the event. It's going to be great; I hope to see you there! 

Cathy is going to murder me for this one. But: not stodgy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kicking it off!

We're back in full swing! Last week, Seattle Pro Musica had our first rehearsal with our new recruits - and oh my goodness, was the bar ever raised! We sightread repertoire for our Celtic Christmas concert with a higher level of success than ever before; we auditioned a crop of fabulous vocalists for our small ensembles, Madrigalia and Schola; we shook hands, introduced ourselves, and had a generally vibrant evening together!

Christina, Teddy, Richard and Madeline -
(trio) lexicon - perform at our kickoff party..
Then, this past weekend, we had our traditional annual kick-off party; our singers, their families, and our Sterling Circle donors are invited to an open house, hosted by intrepid Artistic Director and Conductor Karen P. Thomas. Wine and conversation flowed freely, and we all enjoyed a wonderful performance by (trio) lexicon.*

This week, we had our first Schola rehearsal, a Schola photoshoot, AND our first Madrigalia rehearsal. And here in the office, we're planning for the annual retreat, taking inventory of our CDs, and putting the finishing touches an exciting new collaborative project (more details to come soon)!

Awesome new alto Lauren helps Emma to
inventory our critically-acclaimed CDs!
(visit to buy one!)
And so: I need a nap, but we've too much to do - so instead, I will have another coffee and get back on it. I just wanted to check in and let y'all know that we haven't forgotten this blog; in fact, we're working to schedule guest posters from Pro Musica and our constituents.  If you're interested in sharing something in this forum, shoot me an email and let me know - I'll check in again soon!

*(trio) lexicon - musicians Christina Bach, Madeline Bersamina and Richard Bersamina presented a series of reflections on childhood and growing. Alternately hilariously funny and touching, and always musically top-notch.  Read here for more information, and contact Christina Bach if you're interested in having (trio) lexicon perform at your next event!

Our 2011-12 Schola! 
(Photo by Daniel Sheehan)