Amasong is back!
We are happy to report that long-standing Champaign-Urbana choral ensemble Amasong is back in full force! After a hiatus and diminished numbers during the height of the pandemic, Amasong, the area’s premier lesbian/feminist chorus, will be giving their fall concert on November 4 and 5 at McKinley Presbyterian Church. We spoke with director Heidi Weatherford about the group’s comeback and what audiences can expect at their fall concert.
Katie Buzard: Could you tell us more about Amasong’s recovery from the pandemic and how it affected the group?
Heidi Weatherford: Amasong stopped rehearsing in Spring of 2020. We attempted online rehearsals and gatherings and produced a few videos in the following year. In spring of 2021, we began rehearsing outdoors in the Sixth Street parking garage. But when the contagion level rose, we stopped those gatherings. Similarly in the fall of 2021, we began to rehearse indoors and masked, but again, the contagion levels rose, and we stopped.
In Spring of 2022, we began rehearsing regularly, masked. There were only about 12–16 singers at any given rehearsal, but we managed to pull together a Spring concert in 2022. We continued in the Fall of 2022 with a few more singers. By Spring 2023, we had over 25 singers in the choir. However, it was difficult to perform anything more than two- or three-part music, as the choir’s numbers waxed and waned.
This semester things have turned around. Amasong has 43 singers and is hosting concerts on November 4 and 5, a concert with Parkland Chamber Singers on December 9, and a Solstice concert on December 21.
Not singing in concert for two years took an enormous financial toll on Amasong. We are grateful to the Illinois Arts Council and the B2B Arts Program for grants that have enable us to keep singing.
KB: What is the theme of the November program, and what repertoire will you be singing?
HW: “Sure on This Shining Night” is the title of our November concert and will feature the Morten Lauridsen setting of James Agee’s poem of the same name. We are also singing an arrangement of “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (the Pink Martini version), Terre Roche’s “Star of Wonder,” an arrangement of “Every Night When the Sun Goes Down,” the original Mondine version of “Bella Ciao,” and several other pieces.
In December we will add several holiday favorites to our repertoire, including Flory Jagoda’s “Ocho Kandelikas.”
KB: What sorts of backgrounds do the singers in Amasong come from?
HW: Amasong singers range from professional musicians to folks who are beginning to learn how to sing and sight-read music. We have several undergraduate and graduate students and a few retired professors, as well as local visual artists, librarians, teachers, counselors, and at least one pastor.
KB: Can you tell us a little more about your background and how you became the director of Amasong?
HW: I am the current pastor of McKinley Presbyterian Church on campus. However, my undergraduate degree is from Westminster Choir College in Princeton where I studied Music Education and Sacred Music. Westminster was a small conservatory style music college with a focus on conducting.
I joined Amasong as a singer in 2003, and I have served as interim director for Amasong off and on since 2005. During Covid, in 2020, I became the current director of Amasong.
KB: When Kristina Boerger established Amasong in 1991, she formed the group as a way to create a much-needed community for lesbians and feminists in Champaign-Urbana. What place do groups like Amasong have in society today as the queer community gains wider acceptance?
HW: Choirs like Amasong remain crucial. The world is still dangerous for non-hetero and feminist persons. There is still much healing work to be done. C-U is predominantly a safe cocoon, but C-U is also transient. Amasong is a safe space where women and non-binary folks with treble voices can sing without hiding who they are as persons in the world. We offer community, experiences, and skills that can travel with individuals if and when they leave for other parts of the country. Additionally, the world of choral music still has a way to go to overcome the bias against women composers and directors. Amasong will continue to champion music written by, for, and about women.
KB: I saw that Amasong took part in the Sister Singers Festival this past summer. Can you tell us a bit more about that experience and what the Sister Singers Network is?
HW: The Sister Singers Network is a network of treble voice/women’s choruses throughout the country. The directors and singers occasionally gather via Zoom and share information, music ideas, rehearsal techniques, and more. The choirs share one another’s concert information, and, if available, watch each other’s concerts online. Every four years, the Sister Singers Network hosts a festival where many of the affiliate choruses come and sing for and with one another. This past year the festival was in Cleveland, Ohio. Amasong, though low in numbers, was high in spirit—we had a great time!
Come hear Amasong on Saturday, November 4 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, November 5 at 4 p.m. at McKinley Presbyterian Church in Champaign. Suggested donation of $20 for entry.