Mirabai: Seen and Heard New

It’s rare to be present at the start of something new and important, and I feel that I got that chance last night at the inaugural performance of Mirabai, the new professional women’s chorus conducted by artistic director Sandra Snow.

It should go without saying that the performance, titled “All I Was Doing Was Breathing,” was an artistic expression of the highest order – beautiful, emotionally connected singing reigned throughout their two-hour performance in repertoire ranging from Baroque (Cesis and Cozzolani) and Romantic (Fanny Mendelssohn) to contemporary (including works from Abbie Betinis, Jocelyn Hagen, Andrea Ramsey, and Sean Ivory) with a centerpiece of the newly commissioned three-movement work Ecstatic Songs by David Brunner, setting poetry of the 16th-century Hindu mystic poet Mirabai. With only three days rehearsal, these musical artists made amazing strides and I look forward to hearing the pieces again on their forthcoming recording.

I want to draw attention to two other significant pieces of the Mirabai story. First, watching these singers, I was struck by the number of important choral artists were on stage. Many of these women are notable conductors, composers, and performers in their own right–capable of leading ensembles to the highest levels of artistry–but joined under Dr. Snow’s leadership for this ensemble. To see the performance of these women was to marvel at their collective skill and commitment. They traveled from across the U.S. (and from abroad) to make this music. Next week they will all be resuming their own careers as musical leaders, but for this past week they led from within the ensemble to reach their marvelous conclusion. You could see in many faces that they possess the knowledge of what it takes to lead such an ensemble, and they gave to Dr. Snow what they would have desired if they had been on the podium.

Second, consider the sheer innovation of this project – the audacity to dream for something this big and see it realized – is inspiring. I wasn’t there at the founding of The Robert Shaw Chorale, the first concert of Chanticleer, the first recording session featuring The Singers Unlimited. Neither were you. But I suspect the energy was much the same: the feeling was that someone had dared to take her dream–the sound in her head–and do the work to make it real. So many dreams remain only in our heads, and the more audacious the dream, the more likely it is that we never leap after it. Dr. Snow leapt, and 28 women leapt with her. That, on its own, is praiseworthy; and the leap itself makes it so much more likely that they will continue to exist, grow, and expand their reach and artistry.

I don’t know what the future holds for Mirabai but it looks incredibly promising based on what I heard last night, and on what I know of these remarkable women. Congratulations to all involved; thank you for making art together, and for making it in public so that I and my fellow audience members could leave inspired.

For more information about Mirabai, and to support their mission, visit www.singmirabai.org and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.