Women Who Inspire

In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked some of the leading women in the Chorus America community to tell us about the women who inspire their work. Here are their answers.

Alice Parker

Reflection from Morna Edmundson

AliceAlice Parker

“Alice Parker radiates a true joy of life and a deep, personal love of choral music. At 92, Alice is still making beautiful and meaningful music as a teacher and leader of people of all abilities, a composer, and an arranger. Alice is humble, intelligent, generous of spirit, optimistic, and committed to serving her community through her presence at conferences and special occasions where she continues to give inspiring presentations about the importance of choral music. She remembers people’s names and stories and makes them feel that they matter. She is also still teaching—think of the thousands of composers who have been impacted by her knowledge! I don’t know when I first met Alice, because she has just been ‘always there’ for all of us, showing us by example that a woman alone can raise and support a family, build a reputation of excellence and meaning in what certainly must have felt like a man’s world, forge and maintain relationships with a large and loving community, maintain a keen curiosity, and do it all while being herself—as they say, ‘nothing more and nothing less.’ By her unfailing focus on what really matters in her world view, Alice makes me feel that everything good is possible.”

Morna Edmundson is the artistic director of Elektra Women’s Choir in Vancouver, Canada, a notorious optimist, and a board member of Chorus America.

Gisele Becker

Reflection from Gretchen Kuhrmann

Gisele BeckerGisele Becker

“One of my pet peeves is being referred to as a ‘female’ conductor. I am a conductor. Period. One of the inspirational conductors working here in Washington DC who has influenced my work is Gisele Becker, artistic director of the Cantate Chamber Singers. She holds the same conviction and is a no-nonsense conductor who is clear in her musical ideas and artistic vision. She is not afraid to be tough to get the result she wants, despite the taboo of strong women potentially coming across the wrong way when they demand excellence. She has forged a path forward in creative programming and taking on the non-mainstream choral gems to better educate her singers and audiences. She has a particular affinity for the music of Benjamin Britten and I have learned more about that composer by watching her programming and attending her concerts than I ever thought I would in this lifetime. She is an educator and a musical artist and I have benefited greatly as a person and performer from my friendship with her.”

Gretchen Kuhrmann is the founder and artistic director of Choralis in Washington DC, now in its 18th season. Choralis has an adult auditioned SATB symphonic chorus of 110 singers, a chamber ensemble, and a youth chorus, all of which perform regular concerts each season around Washington and Northern Virginia.

Lynda Hasseler

Reflection from Marie Bucoy-Calavan

Lynda HasselerLynda Hasseler

"Admittedly, growing up, there weren’t as many female choral conductors that I had to look up to. While in my doctoral program, however, I was assigned to work at the World Choir Games in Cincinnati, and it was there that I was able to watch Capital University’s Chapel Choir, led by Dr. Lynda Hasseler. That ensemble sang with a palpable fervor and passion, and an obvious love and respect for their director. The familial environment that Dr. Hasseler had built with the ensemble was apparent throughout their performance. In addition, Dr. Hasseler is unabashedly herself on the podium, from her edgy haircut to her collection of beautiful gowns. I’ve since gotten to know her off the podium, and she has been nothing but kind, supportive, and humble. She embodies the spirit of the kind of conductor that I want to be, emitting a graceful confidence and strength in her femininity."

Marie Bucoy-Calavan is the director of choral studies at The University of Akron and chorus director for the Akron Symphony. She serves on the national board of directors at for Chorus America and NCCO, and as Repertoire and Resources chair for the Ohio Choral Director’s Association.

Evelyn Simpson-Curenton

Reflection from Joyce Garrett

Evelyn Simpson-CurentonEvelyn Simpson-Curenton

“I want to use this opportunity to introduce a DC-area musical giant, Evelyn Simpson-Curenton. A Philadelphia native, Evelyn has distinguished herself as an amazing composer, arranger, singer, pianist, organist, orchestrator, and all-around consummate musician. Her spiritual arrangements have been sung by George Shirley, Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman, and the Porgy and Bess Chorus of the Metropolitan Orchestra, among many others. My choirs have sung her distinguished accompanied and unaccompanied choral arrangements of spirituals, hymns, jazz, and gospel. Her signature arrangement of “Amazing Grace” is sung by choirs all over the world.

I am inspired by a woman who can do it all with excellence: compose, play, sing, and conduct in so many genres from classical to jazz, and everything in between. My conducting skills were improved after observing her give attention to minute details in rehearsals. She knows what she wants from her choristers; and works meticulously to achieve the right phrasing or tonal color for each musical thought. She moves effortlessly from piano to pipe organ, to conductor’s podium, and then to the Hammond organ while she sings and plays. Her standards of excellence are in the stratosphere. She helped me see, hear, and realize that a higher level of performance can always be achieved!”

Joyce Garrett has produced outstanding choral ensembles for over thirty-five years, including for nationally televised performances of the Kennedy Center Honors and Christmas in Washington. She served as founder and artistic director of the Excellence Without Excuses program, a youth intervention, values-training and scholarship program she created for the award-winning Eastern High School Choir of Washington DC during her 27-year teaching career there.

María Guinand

Reflection from Jenny Wong

Maria Guinand and Jenny WongMaria Guinand and Jenny Wong.

“I am writing about the inspiration that is María Guinand. I first knew about María’s work through Dr. Cristian Grases, and then had the chance to work with María first-hand at the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Many would call María the “mother of choral music” in Latin America. Indeed, María has dedicated her entire life to sharing the passion of choral music with whoever came into her presence, and she always did so with a wide smile that was at the same time child-like and wise, an ever-dancing body, a passionate curiosity for further discovery, and a warm, loving embrace that never took anything for granted, and was never tired of giving. I grew up under a series of extraordinary male mentors, but I always wanted to look up to a female role model. María embraced me with the warmth one reserves for family, and opened a universe to me of what a fulfilled life being a leader in choral music could look like.”

A native of Hong Kong, Jenny Wong is one of the youngest conductors to win two consecutive World Champion titles at the World Choir Games (China, 2010) and the International Johannes Brahms Choral Competition (Germany, 2011), conducting the Diocesan Girls' School Choir from Hong Kong. Wong assumed the position of associate conductor of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in 2017, after first becoming assistant conductor in 2016.

Eliza Rubenstein

Reflection from Dale Trumbore

Eliza RubensteinEliza Rubenstein

“I was introduced to Eliza Rubenstein by a former teacher, Ed Maclary, who put us in touch when I moved to Southern California. [Editor’s note: Rubenstein is artistic director of the Orange County Women’s Chorus and the Long Beach Chorale and Chamber Orchestra, as well as the director of choral and vocal activities and chair of the music department at Orange Coast College.] I'll forever be grateful to Eliza for my first-ever commission. As a young composer, I was mystified by the commissioning process, and Eliza not only took a chance on my music, she treated me—fresh out of college—with the same respect she'd have given me if I were already a professional. In the years since that commission, I've learned that Eliza is a passionate advocate for what she believes; whether she's acting as conductor, board member, or editor, she advocates for and elevates voices that she believes need to be heard. Given Eliza's devotion to programming diverse and excellent music, speaking up against sexism within our industry, and advocating for animal rights, I am endlessly inspired by how she wholly and uncompromisingly incorporates her humanity into her music-making.”

Dale Trumbore has been called “a rising star among modern choral composers” (AXS), and her works have been praised for their “soaring melodies and beguiling harmonies” (The New York Times). Trumbore's music has been performed by organizations including the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Children's Chorus, Northwest Symphony Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony, and The Singers—Minnesota Choral Artists, among many others. Hear Trumbore's music at daletrumbore.com.

“The Communal ‘SHE’”

Reflection from Iris Derke

"I’d like to tip my hat to the communal 'SHE'—the network of women who cheer, applaud, pull you up from the muck, and make you feel like you really can do it (and convince you that you already have).

They inspire me with their examples of balance and perspective coupled with adrenalin-infused inspiration; the yin and yang of connecting from the heart, but with a smart brain and being sure to use both together. They remind me of how to listen and only at that point, offer up perspective. They remind me to celebrate and acknowledge accomplishment on a regular basis, and to ingrain gratitude as a base layer to that practice. They fortify my principle that moral and ethics are “non-negotiable” as I use my passion as a compass to forge ahead; and remind me to connect to all those around me with confidence, openness, and transparency. 

Some of my key influencers and inspirational moments from my 'SHE' network:

My mother Danka Gross who I’m lucky enough to work with at DCINY. It is her example of never-ending support and cheerleading through the highs and lows that keeps me consistent in the day-to-day of life and business and knowing that what goes down will go up, and vice versa: Stay the course, put in the work and remember to enjoy the ride.

Composer and librettist Carol Barrett, otherwise known as Lady Carol Jenkins (to Sir Karl). I love how she speaks her mind with no filters. Her example of saying it like you mean it, and speaking from the heart reminds me that you can get more done, quickly, honestly and efficiently with this method.

Conductor Doreen Rao: Early in my career Doreen shared with me unexpected written words of encouragement and support for my role as a businesswoman. I still have it saved on my computer and etched in my mind. It not only surprised me at that time, but by her example set a personal course for me to share that type of encouragement with all (not only women!) around me on a regular basis offering encouragement and perspective. We all deserve to experience that wonderful feeling—written words and shared conversations can be so powerful to those around us. Don’t overlook that.

Iris Derke photo collageFrom left to right: Lady Carol Jenkins with Iris Derke, Doreen Rao, Danka Gross, Lady Jenkins, the women of the world.

Iris Derke is co-founder and general director of DCINY who has brought together tens of thousands of talented artists and musicians from across the globe in performance. DCINY proudly celebrates their 10th Anniversary of Concerts in 2018 and in support, Derke will share the world premiere of a new flute and harp concerto written for her by composer Dinos Constantinides at Lincoln Center. As an avid seeker of life’s adventures, Derke has enjoyed a robust career as entrepreneur, musician, and producer and has recently completed her first 150-mile Ultra-Marathon on the heels of her third NYC Marathon.