Pure Imagination: Play

Come join us for a magical night filled with songs and scenes from The Pirates of Penzance, West Side Story, Sky Fall, Lord of the Rings, and more!

We will perform twice: Saturday, June 9 at 7:00pm and Sunday, June 10 at 3:00pm at Steilacoom Community Church (1603 Rainier Street).

Tickets are $15 in advance at BrownPaperTickets.com or $17 at the door,

Become a sponsor! We reach up to 150 audience members at every performance who love to support local businesses. Find out more here or download our Sponsorship Table Brochure.

See our Facebook Page for previews!

All proceeds go to support Sonoro Choral Society’s mission to support local musical arts.

Pure Imagination_Postcard Front-page-001More about the show: Our theme this season is taken

straight from the classic Hollywood movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The song “Pure Imagination” encapsulates what we love about music: it’s ability to transport listeners to a storied world full of possibilities.

This season, we’re performing a concert completely from musicals and movies. We’re excited to present something light and fun for a change and will be trying our hands at lots of kinds of art including staging, costuming, acting, and some visual arts.

The show is kid friendly. Kids 7 and under come in for free.

As always: if you bought a ticket for Saturday night and can’t make the performance, bring your ticket to Sunday’s (or vice versa!) and we will exchange it free of charge.

Spotlight on Mendelssohn

We’re excited to perform Felix Mendelssohn’s Drei Motetten, Op. 39 for you this Christmas concert (Dec. 2, 3, 2017). It is a beautiful, luxurious piece of music perfectly suited to the rich, full tones of the organ played by our guest organist, Dr. Curt Sather. It is a collection of three “motets” or small, religious songs and though not overtly Christmas-y, fits well in our program.

The first motet, Veni Domine (Come, Lord) is as plantiff a call to God as is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The words are translated as follows:

Come, Lord, and do not delay!
Forgive the transgressions of your people, and call back the dispersed to your land.
Stir up, Lord, your power and come to save us.

Though the melody is solemn, it’s not heavy or dreary, but full of lilt and danceful rhythms.

The second motet, Laudate Pueri (Praise the Lord) begins with musical references to Gregorian chants with the rather thoughtful melody line given to each voice part in succession. The choir quotes from Psalm 113:1-2, translated as: “Praise the Lord ye servants: O praise the Name of the Lord. Blessed be the Name of the Lord: from this time forth for evermore.”  The melody is quickly stacked and reworked by each part into an interweaving polyphonic texture, broken in the middle by soloists who enjoin the listener with a quote from Psalm 128:1, “Blessed are all they that fear the Lord: and walk in his ways”. The melody is firm and absorbed rather than a wild and exuberant Baroque-type quality you might expect from a “Praise the Lord” song which lends a sense of strength and command to an otherwise joyful lyric.

The third motet, Surrexit Pastor Bonus (Good Shepherd), softens into a very pastoral, sentimental sensibility. The soloists and choir pass lyrics back and forth with rising cheer and zeal. The composition plays with elements of Baroque-style fugue, but ultimately blossoms into full-textured polyphony–each voice part singing independently, yet synergistically with each other. The lyrics center around Christ’s death and resurrection, which we think is a wonderful counterpoint to the Christmas story. Especially since the piece ends with sincerely enthusiastic runs of celebratory ‘alleluias!’

The good shepherd who laid down his life for his flock has risen, alleluia. And it was fitting that he should die for his flock, alleluia. [based on John 10:11-18]

They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. If you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away. [John 20: 13 & 15]

Christ, my hope, is risen; he will go before you into Galilee, alleluia. [from the Easter sequence Victimae paschali laudes]


Composer Felix Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn’s three part Op. 39 is absolutely a child of the Romantic era. Composed in 1830, it is influenced by Romantic ideals of the time. Composers in the previous Classical period were focused on exploring the rules and ideal forms of music while the Romanticists began to explore art’s ability to invoke rich and multi-layered feelings in the viewer or listener. Composers and artists explored the boundaries of emotion from the sublime, to abject desperation. They frequently used polyphony to build up layers of textured emotion. Mendelssohn, in particular, will often deliver you a theme, and then pass it around and around, changing bits here and there.

As you listen to this Romantic-era piece, listen for a) the depth and colors of emotion which Mendelssohn is playing with as he attempts to relate humanity to God. And b) the musical texture which is created by multiple melodies being woven together like lace. 

See Sonoro Women’s Choir perform this piece this holiday season.



I have a secret to confess.

Despite my many years as a choral singer, I don’t really choose to listen to classical music that much. In fact, most of the classical music I’ve been exposed to has been at a) my brother’s band recitals in school, b) that one Handel concert my parents made me go to and c) choir. I don’t think I’m alone when I say: sometimes I find classical music difficult to listen to. I just don’t always “get” it.

Fortunately, one of Sonoro Choral Society’s missions is to make music of all forms accessible to the lay listener/singer like me. We’re a teaching choir! And here’s what I’m learning about polyphony.

One of the cool things you can do with choirs that you can’t do with soloists is give each voice a different part. Many, many, many (all?) songs on the radio are homophonic which means they have one melody line and some accompaniment. The accompaniment (voiced, instrumental, or both) is designed to support the melody, but isn’t usually that nice to listen to by itself. [Side note: homophonic is not to be confused with monophonic which is a melody by itself with nothing else].

Polyphony, on the other hand, is multiple melody lines playing independently of each other at the same time. They are harmonically related, but usually rhythmically independent. It’s similar to a fugue in that a musical theme or “subject” is often passed from voice to voice with each voice expanding upon or changing the subject. But it is different from a fugue in that it doesn’t have to be as orderly. Here is a short video with a really great example of polyphony. He breaks down each snippet for you, so that it’s easy to hear the interplay.

I think polyphony is one of the ways Classical music can be hard to listen to, because the many melodies and rhythms can feel dense–cacophonous even. Fortunately, there’s a few tricks I’ve learned which make polyphonous music fun to listen to.

  1. Polyphony is really big in the Romantic era of music which valued music’s ability to produce intense and multi-layered feelings in the listener. So ask yourself: what does each melodic line have to say? How does it support or re-frame the lyric or emotional content of the piece. Are the voice parts in conversation?
  2. If there’s a theme, listen for it to pop up from the morass. How is it disguised this time? Listen for counterpoint like in the video above. Do they compete? enforce the main? How do they change the context in which the initial theme sits?
  3. Now that you’ve listened to the melodies weave in and out, metaphorically stand back from the music as if from a painting. How does it sound together? How does the piece as a whole swell and fade?

While researching for this article, I came across this quote from music expert John Rahn:

It is hard to write a beautiful song. It is harder to write several individually beautiful songs that, when sung simultaneously, sound as a more beautiful polyphonic whole.

He makes a good point, I think. I’m tremendously impressed by people who compose, but to compose TWO simultaneous, interdependent pieces? That’s cool.

Find out where Sonoro is singing polyphony at our events page.

–Johanna Hanson, Marketing Director and singer in Sonoro Women’s Choir.

Want more?

Here’s a little extra:

Sonoro Presents “Mysterium”

Sonoro is proud to announce our Christmas 2017 concert series, “Mysterium” featuring Felix Mendelssohn’s Three Motets for Women’s Choir and Organ, Op. 39 played by organist Dr. Curt Sather.

We will also be singing O Magnum Mysterium by Tomas Luis de Victoria and many Christmas favorites.

Mysterium Web Link

We’ll be presenting two performances:

Saturday, December 2nd at 7:00 pm.
First Presbyterian Church
20 N Tacoma Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
Tickets Here

Sunday, December 3rd at 3:00 pm.
Steilacoom Community Church
1603 Rainier St
Steilacoom, WA 98388
Tickets Here

Tickets are $15 in advance at Brown Paper Tickets or $17.00 at the door.

Keep an eye out for sneak peaks and announcements on our Facebook page!

Or visit our YouTube videos from rehearsals like at the end.

About our Guest MusicianIMG_3043

CURT SATHER received degrees in Organ Performance from Arizona State University, and the Eastman School of Music, Rochester NY. After serving 13 years as Organist & Choirmaster at St. Barnabas on the Desert Episcopal Church, Scottsdale AZ, he joined the Benedictine monastery of San Miniato al Monte, Florence, Italy, where he also served as organist for several churches. He is currently Organist & Choirmaster of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Olympia, where in March of this year he performed the complete organ works of J. S. Bach on a 24-hour recital marathon.

Youtube videos

Sonoro Going to “Seattle Sings”!

And you should too!


We’ll be singing on Thursday, October 12 at 7:20p. Opening ceremonies start at 6pm. The evening ends at 9pm. The Festival continues until Oct. 14 at Seattle First Baptist Church.

This is a great opportunity to enjoy choral music of all types and flavors from local professional and amateur artists including Choir of the Sound, Swedish Singers of Seattle, and Choral Arts Northwest.


Summer 2017 Concert: Love and War…

About our concert:

The Sonoro Choral Society is excited to present an intense and powerful concert entitled, Love and War: The Conflict and Passion of Humanity.

This program will explore the intensity of the human existence from deep love and joy to the harshness of our conflicts and ultimately, the unifying qualities in these shared experiences. We are proud to feature a trilogy of songs by Keven Memley based on the poetic work by Sara Teasdale, named Reflections on Humanity, with Ms. Hope Bales on oboe.

We will also be presenting Eric Whitacre’s wonderful work, Five Hebrew Love Songs, featuring Ms. Gwendolyn Taylor on violin.The rest of the evening will range from exciting and passionate Spanish folk music to Broadway favorites!

Still curious? Read more about our concert pieces at the links below:


This season, we are offering a discount for online ticket sales:
$15 for online tickets, $17.50 for tickets bought at the door.

Please note, if you buy a ticket online for one night, you may exchange the ticket for another night at no extra charge. Just show up on the night you want to attend and we’ll exchange it at the door. (Premium tickets will be exchanged for regular seating with no refund.)

If you belong to the congregation at Steilacoom Community Church, your ticket is free. However, you must have a ticket to enter the performance. Simply pick up a ticket ahead of time from your church staff.

Follow the links to buy online tickets for your night.

Love and War1_link Love and War2_link Love and War3_link

Singing Like Rain

I (Johanna, volunteer women’s-choir attendee and occasional alto) just finished listening to one of my favorite podcasts “The Allusionist” which is usually about the etymology of words but in this episode was about music. The subject was “vocables” the application of which any choir member will be familiar, if with not the actual term. In linguistic parlance, a “vocable” is simply a sound used in speech (not to be confused with phoneme. Phonemes are the atoms, vocables are the molecules of speech). In musical terms, a vocable is a thing you say on purpose but which doesn’t have meaning, for example: shoo bop sha wadda wadda yippety boom de boom.

The music experts on the Allusionist (read the transcript or listen to the story here) made the distinction between vocable use and “scatting” which is more improvisational, though equally senseless. Especially in pop music, vocables are planned and are used strategically to set the tone and rhythm of the song, provide a memorable hook, and/or fill in the background. Sometimes, they are used to leave things unsaid. For instance, here’s JLS’s “She Makes Me Wanna”

While it can seem lazy to not finish the dang sentence, the song-writer allows the listener to fill in the meaning of the lyric, leaving radio-friendly vocables as scaffolding. It won’t take you long to find tons more examples of vocable use in pop songs. In fact, often the music industry relies on these vocable hooks to sell music and keep you tuned to their radio station (read this New Yorker piece on the subject).

But in choral singing, vocables take on an even weightier meaning. Like in jazz scatting, vocables allow choral singers to treat their voice like an instrument. Notice how the scatting in Ella Fitzgerald’s “One Note Samba” sounds like a saxophone.

The difference is, in choral music, vocables are all meticulously planned and strategically organized. This season, Sonoro Women’s Choir is singing several different pieces which all use vocables for different purposes.

Firstly,”Tundra” by Ola Gjeilo (which we did last season) uses simple “ooh”s to evoke a wintry wind. This is a great example of how choral music uses vocables to paint a picture beyond words. On the other hand, in Eric Whitacre’s “She Weeps Over Rahoon,” the choir is instructed to sing “muttering rain and” over and over on one note at each singer’s independent speed for a whole page. The overlapping words–though initially meaningful–are divorced from their meaning and become unquestionably the sound of soft rain. Listen carefully, in this video it’s hard to tell they’re saying words at all!

The second way song writers use vocables is to use them as color. At first peek, Kevin A Memley’s “If I Were the Velvet Rose” (based on Sara Teasdale’s poem “A Maiden”) seems to use vocables as run-of-the-mill filler. However, as you can see below the vocable-singing altos are deliberately instructed to match vowels with the lyric-singing sopranos.vocable eg

Matching vowels in the vocable line makes sure that there is no tonal turbulence. (It just sounds clash-y when one person sings an ‘ehh’ and another person sings an ‘eeee’. Try it with a friend.) In this way, the writer was very careful about the selection and use of vocables. Another great example of this careful consideration of nonsense syllables is “Adiemus” by Karl Jenkins.

Here, Jenkins uses sounds meant to evoke Latin, but which are actually nonsense. He uses vocables the whole song through and selects them based on rhythm and color. They are not simply background, but the whole song. Jenkins asks the listener to place their own meaning upon the song.

We’re singing a similar song: “Tango to Evora” which began as a violin piece by Loreena McKennit and adapted by Jon Washburn for choir. There is not a single word, only “la la la” the whole way through. I asked our Director, Jeremy Shilley, ‘isn’t it a bit lazy to not put words to a song?’ He replied, ‘no, because when you use words, you have to make a decision as to the meaning of the piece. Using ‘la la la’ allows the listener to decide on the meaning.’

‘But,’ I countered, ‘why even bother to adapt a song which does so well as a violin piece to choral music in the first place?’

‘Why not?’ he shrugged and we laughed. That’s art. Adapting and and reinventing. If we can have Gregorian chant version of Metallica songs, I suppose we can have women be a violin. ‘Think of it as an impressionistic painting’ he told me. Where “Tundra” uses vocables to evoke a place, “Tango to Evora” uses vocables to inspire a feeling.

Vocables: the paintbrush strokes of music.

See Sonoro Women’s Choir at their vocable best this summer; details to come.

Extra Reading

Northern Lights

We love Norwegian-born Ola Gjeilo (pronounced yay-lo) for his challenging, close harmonies, shimmeringly delicate chord movements, and for the sense of place enclosed in his music. His cold an elegant Tundra (2016) claimed a semi-permanent rotation in our collection.

This season we’ve taken up Northern Lights (2010), an arresting and earnest work. The music is chant-like with swelling and ebbing waves. Listen to it here. The lyrics are taken from a the Song of Solomon (sung in Latin):


Thou art beautiful, O my love, sweet and beautiful daughter of Jerusalem.

Thou art beautiful, O my love, sweet and comely as Jerusalem,

terrible as an army set in array.

Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have made me flee away.

The theme of our concert, this season, is passion of both love and war. We love how the above author portrays beauty as–not a frivolous, passing thing–but as compelling and frightening. As terrible as an army ready for battle. Our experience of love is sometimes solemn and consequential. Important and deeply lovely.

The astute reader may notice the title of the work: Northern Lights seems out of place next to the Song of Solomon. Gjeilo says that while near Oslo during Christmas, he looked out over an icy lake and:


I was thinking about how this “terrible” beauty reminded me of the northern lights, or auroa borealis. The northern lights are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena I’ve ever witnessed, and they have such a powerful, electric quality that must have been both mesmerizing and terrifying to people in the past, when no one knew what the lights were, and when much superstition was attached to these experiences.

–Author’s note, “Northern Lights” Walton Music Corporation, 2016.

Love is like a terrible, beautiful army and like the mysterious, electric Northern Lights on a crystalline winter’s night. Keen. Formidable. Ineffable and momentous.

We look forward to singing Northern Lights and a few others for you on June 10 and 11, 2017. Details coming soon.



The Grief and Joy in “Alleluia”

Director Jeremy Shilley

One of my favorite pieces from our upcoming Summer 2016 concert (“I Believe in the Sun”) is the very famous, “Alleluia” by Randall Thompson. Alleluia is normally an exclamation of elation and praise. Take as an example, Handel’s “Halleluiah Chorus” from his oratorio, Messiah. One is hard pressed to find a more triumphant and exciting setting of the text. But Thompson did something different with his Alleluias.

At first, you might not notice that Thompson’s “Allelulia” is not that much different from all the other elated liturgical fanfares. It’s written in D Major which is a generally cheerful chord. To understand what makes this piece unique, it helps to look more closely at the circumstances of its commission and the historical period in which it was written.

“Allelulia” was composed in just five days from July 1st through July 5th in the summer of 1940—during the Second World War. It was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky for the Berkshire Music Center (now the Tanglewood Music Center—a prestigious musical festival in Massachusetts which includes concerts, master classes, and musical education). Koussevitzky had wanted a triumphant fanfare for the opening of the program however, Thompson felt that with the recent fall of France to German forces, such a work would be inappropriate. So, he surprised Berkshire with a quiet and introspective piece. The song resonated strongly with his audience and audiences ever since. It is one of the most famous and most often performed choral works and is still to this day performed every year at the opening of the Tanglewood Music Festival. Below, it is performed as a SATB arrangement by Octarium.

Thompson, himself, said of the work, “It is a slow, sad piece, comparable to the book of Job, where it is written, ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’” In fact, the “Alleluia” has always reminded me of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” (sometimes known as the most sorrowful song in the world) and upon learning that Alleluia was a sad piece, those comparisons became even stronger. In particular, they both build very slowly but continuously from a soft gentle beginning to a dramatic and intense climax point and then gently return to tranquility at the end. I think to me, the point where “Alleluia” is both the saddest and most optimistic is about two thirds into the work when the tempo starts to radically increase. It feels like a conscious, almost desperate choice to reach for hope and optimism which finally relaxes back to the original tempo, ending with a peaceful ‘amen’.

When I decided to do the Stabat Mater, an intensely dark and mournful work, I realized that there would need to be hope on the other end. The Thompson “Alleluia” fits into the program as a bit of a bridge between the dark and the light. While it is sad and sorrowful, Thompson’s decision to put it into D major rather than minor keeps it from being too bleak along with the underlying themes of hopefulness throughout the climax and the quiet acceptance of the final ‘amen’.


Randall Thompson, composer, 1899-1984

Another interesting component of the piece are the lyrics. Thompson chose to use the same word over and over again in order to emphasize the emotional content of the composition. By repeating ‘alleluia’ throughout all the subtle and not-so-subtle mood changes of the music, he allows the singer and listener to explore the raw emotional colors in a more intimate and personal way. By this I mean that the journey the listener takes is completely unique to the individual because he or she is not encumbered by the text. The lyrics don’t directly tell you what to feel but rather allow the word ‘alleluia’ to take on whatever emotional shade you have at that moment. So not only is the piece a little bit different every time you hear it, but it also is uniquely moving.

There is some precedent for using very few words repeated for emotional emphasis, for instance, many Latin settings of liturgical works or even the aforementioned Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” There’s even an interesting comparison to be made to Karl Jenkins’s “Adiemus”. Here, while it sounds like words, Jenkins is actually using a nonsensical combination of specific vowels and consonants that he chose for vocal color. Though “Adiemus” was written much later, it does help illustrate the relationship between words and music that Thompson was playing with.

These are just a few reasons I wanted to include Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia” in our program. I think Thompson’s “Alleluia” can be summed up with the Victor Hugo quote: “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” It gives us a mournful but beautiful contrast to the many triumphant Alleluia’s available to choirs and reminds us that even in times of great turmoil and strife, great beauty and reason to rejoice still abound.

Jeremy Shilley
Sonoro Choral Society

Even When He is Silent

This year (2015), we’re playing with themes of lightness and darkness. Though we have solemn, heavy works like “Stabat Mater”, and rapturous works like “Ride On King Jesus” arranged by Moses Hogan, we’ve named our concert “I Believe in the Sun” after a contemplative piece called “Even When He is Silent”. Written in 2011 by Norwegian composer, Kim Andre Arnesen, the song is an a cappella credo to hope in the face of despair. The lyrics are taken from a poem found after World War II scratched onto a concentration camp wall.

The lyrics are a heart-wrenching. Imagine a prisoner lonely, starving, and under daily threat of painful death–still hoping. Still believing in love when faced with tremendous hate. Still believing in God though, day after day, his bitter longing was not answered.

Mr. Arnesen’s musical setting perfectly captures the emotive content of this powerful poem. It first starts out on a stark unison pitch and then opens to a mournful but simple minor chord. The piece very quickly progresses into more complex chord clusters matching the complex emotional content. Midway through the piece the pace and urgency increases rapidly as the choir sings over and over “I believe in love” almost desperately clinging to that thought in the chaos. Finally, we arrive at a sense of piece in the final section: “I believe in God even when He is silent” with long contemplative pauses and ending on a delicate triple piano.

No matter how large the darkness, it cannot overcome even the tiniest spark of hope. That’s definitely worth singing about.

Come hear Sonoro Choral Society perform this and other works June 10, 11, and 12, 2016. See their Facebook page for more details.