Winnipeg, Man. – Founded in 1994 by artistic director Patricia Rabson, Women of Note is a community choir composed of 70 plus women who perform in three ensembles. With several lifelong members and many choristers who have been with the group for over 10 years, walking into a rehearsal often resembles a boisterous chat among good friends – because that’s just what it is.
“There have been more than 500 women who have sung with Women of Note over the years,” says Rabson. “The women who sing in the choir have continuously awed me throughout my tenure. They are an amazing group of ladies. They are not only talented musicians they are also generous and loving humans who, although busy with their families and jobs are always ‘there’ for each other.”
Each year Women of Note hosts a regular Christmas and spring concert drawing audiences of approximately 2,000 people annually. In addition to these events though, the heart and personality of the choir really shines during their limited Xpress performances done at Christmas and early spring.
“The Xpress programs are near and dear to us,” Rabson shares. “This annual project for the choir allows us to share mini concerts for people who are unable to attend our formal events and provides us with an opportunity give back to the community.”
It was this desire to continue connecting with the community and Rabson’s reflections on the power of women and their connections that inspired the theme for Women of Note’s spring concert.
“Our gala anniversary concert is a tribute to the members of Women of Note and all the women in our communities and our lives that make it a better place. The songs we’ve selected reflect the circle of the lives of women in the choir; each of them individually; their families; their communities; their accomplishments in good times and in bad.”
The choir is especially excited to debut their newly commissioned piece titled “The Ancient Ones” that was written by a fellow women’s choir director, U.S. composer Joan Szymko.
“As we started talking about commissioning a piece for our 25th anniversary Joan’s name was at the top of our list,” says Rabson. “She has a choir very much like ours and we have always enjoyed the music she writes. The topic of murdered and missing Indigenous women is something that is near and dear to us as Manitobans, and so intertwined with the theme of our concert. I knew we could work with Joan to create a really special piece to honour this. We can’t wait to share it with everyone.”
The work will be debuted as part of “Still I Rise – Celebrating Women, Building Bridges to Our Community” hosted at Manitoba Hydro Place on Saturday, May 4, 2019 at 8:00pm and Sunday, May 5, 2019 at 3:00pm. The 25th anniversary gala concert is a free event open to the community. Tickets are required for entrance to the event and they are available on the choir’s website.
Through a series of mini concerts, the Women of Note choir is singing for seniors and those in palliative care facilities, and bringing joy to everyone involved.
“Part of what makes me happy about music is how it makes other people feel,” says choir member Tracey Silagy.
“We can bring that [joy] to people, particularly those who are getting to that point in their lives when they don’t have a lot of opportunity to get out to hear concerts. Music does something special to us: it soothes us, it revitalizes us and invigorates us.”
Women of Note is a 70-member choir that performs a number of shows throughout the year. Last December, it offered Christmas Express concerts at Riverview Health Centre and Jocelyn House. In February, it organized a one-day Express tour with stops at Lion’s Place, Lion’s Manor and St. James Kiwanis Village, and has additional concerts scheduled in March.
“One of the important things to the members of the choir is to give back to the community, so over the past five or six years we have started what has become the Express program, where we go out into the community and perform small portions of our concerts,” explains Artistic Director Patricia Rabson.
“The looks on people’s faces, they just love it. They don’t know what to expect. We come in here, we’re a serious looking choir, and I know that my choir is very dynamic and they’re all women, and they’re all nurturing,” Ms. Rabson says.
Chris Edwards is a Geriatric Rehabilitation Unit Recreation Facilitator at Riverview Health Centre. He booked Women of Note’s December Express performance and knows the power music has on patients and the Riverview Health Centre community.
“I think one of the first things people think of when they think of Christmas is getting together as a group and food and music. I think that’s a wonderful Saturday afternoon program, getting us out of our rooms, being a bit of a community ourselves,” he says.
According to Mr. Edwards, music can transform patients.
“I’ll come to their room and I’ll say, ‘There’s a choir downstairs,’ and you’ll see them immediately perk up. You bring them down, you watch their head lift, there’s eye contact, and there’s foot tapping and there’s hand tapping. There’re singing along, and they know the words, they all flood back. You see the emotions seeping out of them. It’s wonderful for me to see and it’s nice for the choir to be able to bring that out of them.”
Women of Note was formed in 1994 by Ms. Rabson, who was looking for new challenges.
“Before I even really formalized my plan people were already calling me about it… and by that first rehearsal I had 63 people and I didn’t do any advertising, it was just word of mouth.”
Women of Note is an auditioned choir with three ensembles: the Choral, which consists of about 50 women with varying skill levels; the Chamber Singers, consisting of 24 experienced singers with more time to dedicate to rehearsal; and the Massed Choir, which is all the voices together.
“I joined women of note about six years ago, and I was looking for a place to sing because singing makes my heart happy,” Ms. Silagy says. “I found a really lovely and comfortable place to be in Women of Note. I find the repertoire to be a good mix between challenging and super enjoyable, and the ladies are a lot of fun. We really, really enjoy spending time together.”
At the Riverview performance, the audience was invited to join in and sing carols. Emily Yurchi is a patient in Riverview’s Geriatric Rehabilitation Unit.
“I’ve really enjoyed this program,” she says. “There are some carols I heard long, long ago but I haven’t heard them recently; it was a thrill to listen to.”
Following each performance, Women of Note spends time talking to attendees.
“We go out into the audience, and chat with people, and perform for them, and sing for them and you can see the joy on their faces. And the comments they make afterwards are just, it can make you cry, absolutely make you cry. And many of these people were in our shoes 30 years ago, doing this themselves and they deserve to have this kind of opportunity,” Ms. Rabson says.
Hear more about Women of Note on the River City 360 podcast.
This story is featured in the Winter 2017 edition of The Winnipeg Foundation’s Working Together magazine.