Classically Trained: Music from the soul

NEWPORT BEACH — As an instrumentalist who makes music with help from innovations generated by a more mechanical age, I have a deeper admiration for those skilled with the timeless purity of voice. Singing comes straight from one's musical soul to the listener; there is no in between.

Unlike with instruments, singing is not strings, metal or wood. It's not a human breath or movement somehow altered to make music. Singing is as pure as music gets.

The results can be, in my mind, all the more amazing.

"Amazing" aptly describes the sound of women's voices in well-rehearsed harmony I heard on the evening of Nov. 23 at the Newport Harbor Lutheran Church.

The church is the rehearsal home of the Orange County Women's Chorus, an ensemble "causing treble" in the community since 1997. The Newport Beach-based group with 36 members rehearses Tuesday nights at the Dover Shores church. They get that facility's beautiful hall all to themselves to prepare for their ambitious programs that span many eras and cultures.

My brief time hearing this remarkable local group left a lasting impression on me after its director, Eliza Rubenstein, let me sit in a recent rehearsal. That particular night, the group of women were chanting in Estonian, among other things, in preparation for their upcoming concerts.

The chorus' upcoming program for Dec. 4 and 5, "Ice Age: Come in to the Cold," is themed for a chill not found in Newport-Mesa.

Those words sung in Estonian are for an interesting piece called "Virmalised," by Estonian composer Veljo Tormis. They musically describe the aurora borealis — the natural phenomenon of the northern skies when the sun's solar winds collide with the earth's atmosphere.

Also on the program is "Snowforms," by R. Murray Schafer. The Canadian's compositional style is among the most interesting I have ever seen. His sheet music does not incorporate traditional Western musical notation. Rather, in this case, the singers read and follow a squiggly line on the page that meanders up and down, one which somewhat correlates with the pitches indicated above key marks.

The result is a beautiful musical landscape of a world whitened with ice.

Also included on this program is Vincent Persichetti's "Winter Cantata," with flutist Timothy Hagen and marimba player Paul Sternhagen accompanying the chorus.

It's clear these women work hard for their desired sound under the direction of Rubenstein, who also serves as the choral director at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. The Oberlin and UC Irvine graduate has been leading the group since 2000.

Janelle Tag, a Cal State Fullerton alumna, accompanies the group on piano.

Saturday's performance begins at 7 p.m., Newport Harbor Lutheran Church, 798 Dover Drive.

On Sunday, the chorus performs at 3 p.m. at St. Wilfrid of York Episcopal Church, 18631 Chapel Lane, Huntington Beach. Tickets are $20, or $15 for students and seniors.

The next concert for the Orange County Women's Chorus isn't until March, so chances to hear these talented singers should not be missed.

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BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. E-mail him story ideas at

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