After only three years in existence, Cal Poly’s Women’s Chorus has already become the university’s first to be invited to the prestigious California All-State Music Education Conference (CASMEC).
Scheduled to take place on Feb. 18 in Fresno, Calif., the conference provides professional learning opportunities for music educators and students across the state and for various types of ensembles, bands and groups.
Invitations involve a rigorous audition process. To be invited, the Cal Poly choral group was required to send in audition tapes from the past two years to prove continuity in their ability.
Only five choirs in total were selected for the 2022 conference and, despite the element of intensive competition, Cal Poly’s Women’s Chorus was accepted as one of the groups. Siobhan Miller, a history senior, choir member and President of the Cal Poly Choir Council, remembers the day that she and her peers were informed of their acceptance.
“There was definitely a really excited reaction throughout the choir when we found out,” Miller said. “It was a really great moment because we knew that we had been chosen specifically out of the many different choirs that applied and submitted footage of their performances to be able to perform.”
Unlike other festivals or musical showcase opportunities, CASMEC does not have a contest for the groups to compete in at the conference itself. But even with this to relieve some of the pressure, Director of Choral Activities Scott Glysson said that the performance still holds significant value.
“You’re performing for the most important people that you could possibly perform for and not just your colleagues,” Glysson said. “There’s nothing more scary than performing for a room full of choral conductors because they’re not just listening, they’re critiquing the entire time.”
There are about 60 members in the Women’s Chorus and as a whole, the students are relatively younger than other choral groups at Cal Poly, which usually consist of upperclassmen. But while this might seem like a disadvantage in competition against groups with older singers, Glysson said that this element has only inspired success.
“They’ve really risen to the occasion, they’ve grown really fast this year and I think they’re really excited about [CASMEC],” Glysson said. “I think they feel a sense of pride in it. There’s a spirit of wanting to do well.”
While the majority of the choir may be young, there are still some singers that are third and fourth years; some have even been in the choir since it was founded in winter quarter of 2019.
Sheridan Liaw, a music senior and alto section leader for the Women’s Chorus, joined when the group was first established and has witnessed the progression firsthand.
But in addition to the progression of the choir’s capability, Liaw has also noticed an evolution with the relationships of the choir members and how they have built the group up together.
“We’ve kind of just grown to be more like a family. We are all pretty close now and sing pretty well together and even though we have new people joining each quarter, the quality of the group has still grown rather than get set back,” Liaw said. “So the progression keeps growing which is pretty cool to see.”
The choir will be performing some pieces that were used in 2019 as a representation of their vast evolution from being founded three years ago to being accepted into CASMEC.
The Women’s Chorus will be performing a total of seven pieces, all from various time periods, backgrounds and composers. Glysson said that it is important to “[make] sure that composers that come from underrepresented backgrounds are being explored and their music’s being done.”
With the level of prestige that this conference holds, the choir’s attendance to it will have both an immediate and a lasting impact. When it comes to recruitment of music majors at Cal Poly in the future, Glysson said he is hopeful that CASMEC will raise awareness and “build momentum” about the music program and the choir ensembles themselves. In the immediate future, though, he said he believes that this opportunity will improve esteem.
“I think that the biggest impact that this type of conference has [is] obviously this is a big morale boost for the whole program in general because it’s like we’re accomplishing stuff, we’re being recognized for it,” Glysson said.
As a directly involved member of the choral program at Cal Poly, Miller said she feels a sense of pride in having witnessed this accomplishment come to fruition. But she also said she notes the importance of the music itself, and how she values each piece individually for what it can express.
“I am really proud of all of the work that we have done to learn the music, then go beyond to understand what the music is about, and how we communicate the meaning to the audience through our singing,” Miller said.