Interviewed by Helena Cochrane
Among the Creative Pursuits available to AWA Members is the International Women’s Vocal Ensemble, who tongue-in-cheek call themselves the DIVAS. There is a lot in a name. Since resuming practices in person following the easement of Covid-19 restrictions, the singers found that enrollments in the AWA Choir did not justify their calling themselves a choir. In February of 2020, there were upwards of 15 singers. In the spring of 2022, on a good day, they could only assemble seven singers, and thus the name change. The singers who’ve joined since May of 2022 have enthusiastically embraced the commitment of time and effort to make a great sound together.
The repertoire included songs many had never even heard before and one song in Chinese, which proved an even further challenge. However, director Phine Sim had them all start with the basics of breathing, and then taught rhythm, tone, enunciation and listening skills so that AWA Vocal Ensemble members got as much as they gave in this first season of the year.
I asked singers what joining the choir meant to them this year, and the answers were heartwarming and heartfelt.
“After this long period with restricted social interactions, all I wanted was singing to celebrate this new time. It was a pleasant and happy discovery to meet so many fun, smart, welcoming ladies. My Wednesday is not the same without singing along with you Divas, “ says Deborah de Moura.
“The main attraction comes down to how much we get from our director, Phine. She is such a professional, and has taught us so much about how to handle the music. I can’t believe how generous she is with her expertise,” replied Alex Cherry. “And I wanted to get to know more people. And I have done that, in this fun atmosphere.”
Sonia Raithatha came to the Divas in mid-October, but it is never too late.
“I did not think I would be able to learn the music, but I did, and it was really fun. I felt I had risen to an exciting challenge.”
For Uma Ponniah, who is in her second season with the Divas, this ensemble offers her a relaxing respite from her work.
“I sang with another group several years ago, and now I am allowing myself time to do it again. I love to sing with other people. I can just relax and let go.”
Ana Kovacecic came along with a friend who had suggested she give it a try. “I though I would give it a try, not knowing quite what to expect. I found such a welcoming atmosphere. I love learning new music and the techniques for breathing, and everyone is so easy to be with.”
As an ensemble, we are always more than the sum of our parts. A singer may hum to herself as she walks along the street, or sing along with the radio at home, but in a group, as you hear others’ voices and build harmonies with your own voice, you also build harmonies with your hearts. We also reach out to the hearts of others. We were only able to arrange one performance this fall, inaugurating the Christmas season for the residents of Allium Care Centre, on Venus Dr. on November 30. There, 25 residents listened to our pop repertoire and joined us for Christmas caroling. In the spring term, we hope to be performing for several of other care facilities that have welcomed us pre-pandemic.
Carmen Lazo recalls the satisfaction of singing in a chorus when she was a university student. Marriage, children, living away from her native Peru took her away from being able to join a choir. As one of us Divas, Carmen “Remember(s) that special feeling of being young and in the moment as we sing in a group. It’s like traveling back in time a little bit.”
As president of the Vocal ensemble, I feel a great sense of gratitude and achievement. Phine Sim made a commitment to us again this year, even with the many obligations she has for her job in the Singapore music education system, and with Voices of Singapore. In late October, we had the good luck of having an accomplished pianist join us for rehearsals and give us a real boost for practice as well as performance. Maria Alambri ‘s participation was another bit of good karma that visited our group and helped us become better musically and socially.
In this fall 2022 season of post-restriction rebuilding, we have had our share of setbacks, with people getting sick, families needing our support outside of Singapore, and competing demands on our time. Even from far away, we hear about our members’ enthusiastic embrace of this vocal ensemble. Deborah Miles says she “couldn’t be more delighted to know that we can continue to make melodies.” Ana Lucia Meirelles chimes in that her Wednesdays are happily committed to singing with the Divas, ‘through thick and through thin.’
The Divas welcome singers of all levels of experience, and audition only for the purpose of placing your voice range. They meet on Wednesday mornings at St. Bernadette Church Hall from 10:00 a.m. until noon. Please consider the commitment, joy and sisterhood of singing with this group of singers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.