Vox Musica is a local all-women choral group whose members push their vocal talents to the limits through the learning and presentation of rare, difficult and beautiful vocal music. Girls on the Grid’s Mary Beth Barber caught up with these 12 remarkable women and their director Daniel Paulson for a Q and A during a rehearsal for their upcoming holiday performances “Nativitas: A Vox Christmas” on December 4 and 5. Biographies of each of the singers can be found on their website: www.voxmusica.net
GOTG: Who is Vox Musica?
Vox Musica: The women of Vox Musica are dedicated vocal artists of all ages who come together to explore, create and perform music that’s rarely heard. The groups is “chamber” sized (6 sopranos and 6 altos), which leads to rich harmonies and unique tones not found in larger groups. Some of us are students or recent college graduates. Others have children, families and established careers outside music. Some come from choral or opera backgrounds; others from jazz and other forms. But all of us are dedicated to our craft and push each other as a group to explore our vocal talents for an audience.
GOTG: What does “Vox Musica” mean?
Vox Musica: It’s Latin for “Voice of Music.” Director Daniel Paulson purposely chose a name that sounded international, but also didn’t limit the group through a gender description in the name, especially if the group wanted to include men’s voices in the future.
GOTG: What exactly is the “style” of music you perform?
Vox Musica: We sing choral music from a variety of different origins. For example, the holiday show on December 4 and 5 will sound familiar to many listeners, as this show focuses on the traditional choral sound. Other performances later in the year will incorporate music from around the world. We’ve sung in at least 12 different languages over time and collaborated with everything from Japanese Taiko drummers to unique Indian music in a rare dialect. But even the holiday show consists of newly composed music. It will feel familiar, but will include newly composed music or rarely performed older music, fitting in with our overall artistic goal of focusing on new music that sounds classical.
GOTG: This is your 5th season – what should listeners expect?
Vox Musica: The holiday show will have all the warmth of a traditional concert at this time of year, but the next two shows will stretch our artistic talents. “Fidesium” in April will pair our voices with a newly built guitar and feature the premiere of a Portuguese composer, as well as work by our composer-in-resident Matthew Grasso. “Praestum” in June features the singers of Vox in solo pieces. And on February 17 we’ll be at the Crocker Museum with a world premiere arrangement by Grasso and an arrangement by Mussorgsky, the Russian composer from the Romantic period, most famous for “Night on Bald Mountain.” But the piece we’ll do is rarely performed and newly arranged.
GOTG: Does this kind of music resonate with people?
Vox Musica: We have been wonderfully surprised by the reaction we get after our concerts. Kids who initially look like they’d rather be playing video games sit enraptured once we start singing. One boy came up to us afterwards and out of the blue said “That was so COOL!” Adults who say they don’t like choral music put us into a different category after they’ve heard us. It could be because we’re small – you can hear our voices independently when we harmonize, which adds personality that you don’t necessarily get from a large group. We also go out of our way to explore and present truly new and very complex sounds that aren’t common. Our work is challenging to the ear because of the complexity, and seems to resonate with people who didn’t expect to like it.
GOTG: Your season takes place at St. John’s Lutheran Church at 17th and L Streets. How is this facility as a venue?
Vox Musica: St John’s is a beautiful place to perform in – our voices sound beautiful in this space. Sacramento lacks a number of mid-sized performance spaces, and many other vocal groups have discovered St. John’s as well and utilize it for rehearsals and performances. But being in a church can sometimes give the public the wrong impression. Many of our invited guests expect a certain religious tone to our music because of the venue, which isn’t the case. Other cities utilize their established religious facilities for non-religious musical concert (New York and San Francisco being the obvious locations) … it might just take Sacramento a bit of getting used to. This venue is so lovely, they don’t know what they’re missing.
GOTG: Do you make a living with your music? What motivates you to spend so much time with Vox Musica?
Vox Musica: None of us make money through Vox Musica, at least not yet. But we are an established nonprofit, which will hopefully help. We’re proud that we exist at all, given how difficult arts funding is these days, especially in California. We do this because we love it. Even if we have to drag ourselves to Monday evening rehearsals after a long day of work and life, the minute we start singing everything changes. Working with each other with our art is life-inspiring, despite our difference in ages, personalities and backgrounds.
GOTG: What are your opinions on arts education – in your past, in Sacramento, and in the world currently?
Vox Musica: Most of us grew up with music in some form, especially school bands. It’s where we learned to first read music. Some of us started singing at a young age, including in church. Others were drawn to it through pure love of vocal music. But we’re all worried about the dwindling of music and arts education in the schools. The arts has become so one-sided – too many listeners and watchers and not enough participants, especially in schools. The education system has to bring the arts and music back into the classroom, or there will be an entire generation who will lose the dedication, passion, drive and creativity that we grew up with.
GOTG: Thoughts on Sacramento as an arts community?
Vox Musica: Sacramento has a rich arts culture, but it’s under-rated by the public. Some days it is really hard to get an audience, especially one that goes beyond friends and family. We’re really looking forward to the concert at the Crocker in addition to our regular season, if only to expand our audience more. That concert will be significant, as will the American Choral Directors’ Association conference in Chicago in the spring.
GOTG: I read about the conference in Chicago – what’s that going to be like?
Vox Musica: We’re looking forward to meeting other vocal artists and groups like ourselves. It can feel so daunting out here sometimes. And it’s a tremendous honor to be invited to this national conference as such a young group. In fact, we may be one of the few (if only) groups not directly associated with a school or major facility of any kind, but doing this independently. Travel funds may be a problem for us – we hope to do some fundraising this holiday season through caroling and paid performances. But we’re going, however we have to get there.
GOTG: Any final thoughts?
Vox Musica: We love music, we love to challenge ourselves, and we love to perform. In general, we love what we do. And we’re not afraid to talk about it.
Vox Musica’s holiday concert “NATIVITAS: A Vox Christmas” takes place on Saturday, December 4 at 7pm and Sunday, December 5 at 5pm at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 1701 L Street in midtown Sacramento. Tickets are $15 each. See more at www.voxmusica.net.