VWC Alumni Interest Group Overview
In 2009 a group of current Virginia Women’s Chorus (VWC) members worked with Alumni Hall to co-found the Virginia Women’s Chorus Alumni Interest Group (AIG) Board of Trustees. At the beginning of 2010 the Board was officially certified as an Alumni Interest Group. Since then, a host of activities have helped promote sisterhood among alumnae across the country. For example, community service projects, football tailgates, alumnae concerts, museum visits, etc. The Board will continue to foster strong alumnae ties to the University and is active in AIG conferences.
VWC Alumni Group History
The concept of a Virginia Women’s Chorus (VWC) alumni group was first announced in the fall of 2006, and the first “exploratory” meeting was held in February 2007. The attendees agreed that an alumni group was a wonderful idea, and decided to meet again two months later on a Sunday in April, the day after the VWC spring concert. The group met again in December of 2007, by which time the VWC had appointed its first alumni relations chair.
This informal alumni group continued to meet in 2008, and in January 2009, a formal request went out for interested alumni to come together to form an official Alumni Interest Group affiliated with the UVA Alumni Association. Alumni responded, and in March 2009 a mission statement and bylaws including proposed Board positions were drafted. Following that meeting, a Board of Trustees was appointed, and it held its first official meeting during the April 2009 concert weekend. The first Board included Claudia Fletcher as Chairwoman, Laura Harders as Chorus Liaison, Michelle Cho as Treasurer, Lynne Stein Benzion as Secretary, Corenia Burlingame as Secretary, Katie Brackett as Reunion Chair, Liz Lane as Communications Chair, and KaeRenae Mitchell, Kyle Hayden, Alexis Beauvais, Sarah Begeman, Courtney Costello, Jessica Bashkoff, Megan Van Sykcle, Clare Anderson, Caroline Zill, and Shannon Montague as Members at Large.
A Facebook group was established, and a fund account was set up in May, 2009. In June, the Virgina Women’s Chorus Alumni Interest Group (AIG) received provisional status from the Alumni Association. The AIG’s first official event was a Reunions Reception in June 2009. When 20 people attended and the bank account swelled to $300, we knew we were onto something. Throughout 2009, the Board continued to meet and plan events, including a 2009 Homecomings Event, and a grand April 2010 Anniversary Concert and Reunion.
In September 2009 the AIG received its first grant: $100 from the Alumni Association for a homecomings tailgate reception. Throughout the fall of 2009 and winter of 2010, the group worked hard to develop a membership database. In March, 2010 we approved a logo, and won our second grant, $1270 from the UVA Parent’s Committee to pay for the rental of Old Cabell Hall for the Anniversary Concert. The Anniversary event became a full weekend of VWC alumni reunion events, culminating in a joyous concert with many of the alumnae in attendance joining the current chorus on stage.
Just two weeks after the Anniversary Weekend, The Alumni Association’s Board of Managers voted to grant the Virginia Women’s Chorus Alumni group full AIG status. The Board held its first meeting under its new status on June 15.
The group held its second Reunions Reception June 2010, and revised its bylaws that summer. The VWC and AIG received a $150 grant from the Alumni Association for a Homecomings Tailgate event, and the AIG diligently planned and publicized a post- game event. Then, just two weeks before the game, the start time was moved to 6 p.m. We rolled with it, remade the event into a pre-game tailgate, and registration exploded! Nearly 50 people attended.
In 2011, the AIG began to grow its engagement activities. AIG Board members participated in the Alumni Association’s Leadership Conference in February. There was an April reception after the VWC Spring concert, the now annual Reunions Reception in June, and a new Alumnae Networking Happy Hour in DC, also in June. The Board continued to hold regular meetings, and the October Homecomings event also became a confirmed annual tradition.
In November, the VWG made the AIG aware of its need to finding a more permanent home for music storage, as the music library had outgrown its place in members’ ever-moving apartments. For the next six months, the AIG investigated options for storage and paying for it. The group reviewed and enlarged the alumni database, set up a new Music Storage Fund account to receive fundraising dollars, and launched a Music Storage Fund direct campaign in March 2012 which raised over $1400. The project culminated in a music storage organization and move party during the April Spring Concert weekend.
In March of 2012, the AIG held its first non-musical cultural event, a visit to the National Air and Space Museum. A pre-Spring concert happy hour came in April, and in May the group held its first community service event, preparing food for those in need at Martha’s Table in DC. Reunions in June was followed by Homecoming in October, and the group conducted a major website upgrade during fall 2012 and winter 2013. But the true highlight of 2012 was November’s fabulous Connections Concert and Dinner in Arlington, VA. More than 35 alumni learned the music on their own, and then came to eat, briefly rehearse as a group, and then sing in concert with their undergrad sisters. The beauty of their singing was a testament to music’s power to bring people together.
In 1974, four years after women were admitted without restriction into the University of Virginia, Jim Dearing founded the University of Virginia Women’s Chorus as part of the McIntire Department of Music. Under the direction of Jim Dearing (1974-77), Doug Hargrave and his assistant, Katherine Mitchell (1977-81) and Edmund Najera (1981-82), the University of Virginia Women’s Chorus thrived.
Under the leadership of Jim Dearing, the chorus quickly became an outstanding ensemble, particularly with contemporary music by composers Stravinsky, Kodaly, and Bartok. The chorus was chosen to sing at the ACDA convention in 1976 and toured the East coast several years. From 1977 until 1981, Doug Hargrave directed the women’s ensemble with assistance from Katherine Mitchell. Since Doug was also the conductor of the orchestra at the university, Katherine took over many of the responsibilities. Candlelight concerts in the chapel became an annual tradition and Katherine began the tradition of a Spring Pops Concerts, featuring jazz and pops during the second half. In 1977, she founded the first female a cappella group at UVA, the Virginia Belles. For one year Edmund Najera directed the women’s chorus (1981-1982) and composed and arranged many selections for the chorus.
In 1982, Katherine Mitchell was hired by the University of Virginia as Director of the Chorus and remained in that position until 1989. During these seven years, the Women’s Chorus produced its first professional recording (vinyl!), began its long tradition of appearances at the Washington National Cathedral, toured the East Coast from New York to Florida and was selected after rigorous audition procedures to perform at the prestigious American Choral Directors’ Association Convention
In 1989, the McIntire Department of Music made the decision to no longer maintain single-sex choral organizations as part of its curriculum. Without sufficient funds and logistical support, the University of Virginia Women’s Chorus was forced to disband. In 1994, through the dedicated efforts of two fourth-year students, Elizabeth Noseworthy and Wynne Krause, and with the assistance of Katherine Mitchell, the Virginia Women’s Chorus emerged as a Contracted Independent Organization at the University.
Under the direction of Katherine Mitchell (1994 – 1995), Donna Plasket (1995 – 1999), Elizabeth C. Moore Slade (2000 – 2005), Interim Director Craig Jennings (Spring 2006) and our current director Katherine “KaeRenae” Mitchell (Fall 2006 – present) the Virginia Women’s Chorus has again flourished.
Since its revival in 1994, the Women’s Chorus has flourished in the University community and beyond. Along with one full concert each semester, the Chorus also performs at numerous University events throughout the year. Such events have included joint concerts with the Virginia Glee Club, the University Singers, and the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra, as well as performances at Relay for Life and the Take Back the Night ceremony. The Virginia Women’s Chorus has performed concert tours in Boston, Atlanta and Washington D.C., including service participation at the Washington National Cathedral and the National Shrine. The Chorus has also hosted visiting choirs, including the VMI Glee Club, the William and Mary Women’s Chorus and the University of Wisconsin Concert Choir.
The Chorus has also traveled to perform in places such as Boston, Atlanta, and Richmond, as well as at the National Cathedral and the National Shrine. In 2002, under the direction of Elizabeth (“Libby”) Moore, the Chorus embarked on its first European concert tour, performing in Portugal and Spain. France and Italy were the destinations of its second international tour in January 2005.
In 2005 the Virginia Women’s Chorus celebrated with its first anniversary concert. The Chorus celebrated its second anniversary concert April 10, 2010: “A Tapestry of Sound…weaving past and present”. Close to fifty alumnae returned to join their sisters in song, coming from California, Maine, New York, Florida and Minnesota. It was a marvelous gathering and reunion for all, and the music was superb. All former conductors returned and led the women through their favorite selections.
The Virginia Women’s Chorus continues to thrive and delight in bringing quality music to audiences of all ages and to gain prominence in the University and Charlottesville communities.
The Virginia Women’s Chorus is publicly affiliated with the McIntire Department of Music at the University of Virginia.