Women’s Voices, in Praise of God
Lorelei: Marsh Chapel’s first female ensemble in residence
Mind you, Scott Jarrett has nothing against dead white guys: witness the Bach concerto series he oversees each year as Marsh Chapel’s music director.
Still, it being the 21st century, Jarrett (CFA’99,’08) felt the chapel was missing out on two opportunities: showcasing the work of living composers and that of women, be they composers or performers.
He seized both opportunities by naming the Lorelei Ensemble Marsh’s first all-female ensemble in residence. Founded by Beth Willer (CFA’08,’16) four years ago, the group performs contemporary as well as medieval, Renaissance, and baroque music. Lorelei will present the first of this academic year’s three concerts, titled Lumen di Lumine, at Marsh Chapel on Saturday, November 19, at 8 p.m. Among the artists whose work the group will perform is Mary Montgomery Koppel (CFA’10), a College of Fine Arts lecturer and Lorelei’s (obviously living) composer in residence.
Lorelei’s eight voices also sing occasionally at the regular 11 a.m. Sunday service at Marsh Chapel. It’s a musical and spiritual symbiosis: the chapel gets its 21st-century ensemble—women performing music by living and female composers—along with the ensemble’s fan base, and Lorelei, a relative start-up (its office is in Willer’s house), gets the cred that performing at a major university affords. The ensemble, which also is in residence with the Holden Choirs at Harvard, receives no money for their appointment.
“Many of our singers actually sing in the Marsh Chapel choir,” says Willer, and have or are seeking BU degrees, making residency “a natural relationship. It exposes us to people who may not have otherwise found us. It’s a very naturally supportive community of what we’re doing.”
She launched Lorelei out of a sense that the repertoire for higher-pitched voices too often is written for children and younger singers rather than for adult women. Her group is “interested in expanding the repertoire for women’s voices,” she says, “whether that is commissioning a new work or finding repertoire from the earlier periods that has not been exposed or has not been recorded.” In particular, Lorelei’s By Women for Women initiative seeks out female composers who will write pieces for women’s voices, some of which may be performed at Marsh Chapel.
For his part, Jarrett needed a fresh partner after the departure of L’Académie, Marsh’s resident ensemble for the past three years. “Of the music that we do at Marsh Chapel, 90 percent of it, maybe more, is by dead people,” he notes. “The chapel choir and collegium [orchestra] are focusing this year on broadening that spectrum to include the music of living composers at least once a month.” Lorelei’s repertoire included those, and its all-woman membership additionally afforded the chance “to build relationships with what we want church to look like in the 21st century,” Jarrett says, “and to reach out to music thinkers.”
“The music of women is vastly underserved, not because of any historical-political bent. There just haven’t been that many women composers, and that’s a new genre that we’re hoping to support.”
He hopes that Lorelei’s presence will also bring more gender diversity to Marsh Chapel. “I look at our staff: Dean Robert Allan Hill, whom we adore, is a white man. I am a white man. Our senior staff is led by white men.
“What we’re interested to do, in our own way, in our neck of the woods, musically speaking, is to advocate for women making music.”6 Comments