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Women and Song

When Mary Pat, a member of the Southern Arizona Women's Chorus, performed at Carnegie Hall with the chorus last June, tears came to her eyes when she sang her first note. Mary Pat--a former nun--felt that standing amidst such grand history was a spiritual experience.

Maria, another member of the chorus, stood on the stage and reflected that she was grateful for life. Growing up in New York, she knew the meaning of Carnegie Hall. Having survived cancer and a car accident where her legs were crushed, she never thought she would live to see the day when she got to perform there.

Artistic director Terrie Ashbaugh recounts these stories with a sense of pride and accomplishment. As she watched her chorus perform, tears filled her eyes. Ashbaugh's involvement in the chorus started nine years ago, when she was named artistic director. The chorus was formed 21 years ago, originally as the Foothills Women's Chorus. Current members range in age from 25 to 89.

"I never dreamed I would be there," Ashbaugh says. "I thought of all they had accomplished and how far they had come. ... The experience was awesome. I believe most of the women were fulfilling lifelong dreams by going."

Ashbaugh says the group was invited to Carnegie Hall along with two girls' choruses from Tennessee. She never submitted a request to perform there and was thrilled by the honor--but she felt a name change was in order.

"After we received the invitation to Carnegie Hall, (the new name) better explained who we are." She wanted the name to be more descriptive of where they were from.

When Ashbaugh started, the group performed only for senior communities and civic organizations. She has tried to make the group into the "premier women's chorus of Tucson." Ashbaugh, a musician for more than 35 years, has served as a piano accompanist for several groups, including Arizona Theatre Company, Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Tucson Girls Chorus. She received her master's degree in choral conducting from the UA and has directed the Kirkland Choral Society (in Washington state) and the faculty/staff choir at the UA, among others.

Her goal with the Southern Arizona Women's Chorus has been expansion. Now with 70-plus members, the chorus "provides big works for women's voices and ... music for the community on a larger scale."

The Southern Arizona Women's Chorus presents their spring concert, Buckskin and Spanish Lace, at 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 4, at Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. A VIP ticket includes a champagne and dessert reception and costs $50. A concert-only ticket costs $15. A second performance takes place at 3 p.m., Sunday, May 6, at Ascension Lutheran Church, 1220 W. Magee Road, and costs $15. Tickets are available at the door for both concerts. Call 404-3148 or visit southernarizonawomenschorus.org for information.

Ashbaugh says the title of the concert refers to the music to be performed. "The concert features folk songs from Mexico, Spain, Venezuela, Brazil and America. ... Half the program will be Spanish-oriented, and the other half American folk songs. It's a good title for Spanish and American music. We are close to the border, and it's a genre that not every chorus in America is doing. We are showing a little bit of our Spanish culture in the Southwest."

A press release describes the music to be "hot-blooded and haughty, a mixture of delight and disdain." Ashbaugh offers a prediction: "This will prove to be exciting. You might even say sexy."

Accompanists joining the chorus include Helen Jones on piano, Adrienne Horne on cello, Maria Pinter on castanets, Mary Walker on the dulcimer, Colin Ashbaugh on the tambourine and conga and Cheryl Goodberg on percussion. Robert and Denise Gadsden will dance while the chorus sings Kirby Shaw's "Too Hot to Samba." Shaw is an American teacher and composer with more than 1,500 choral arrangements/compositions in print.

Over the years, Ashbaugh has attended chorus concerts and walked out thinking, "That was nice," without a sense of excitement. In contrast, she vows that audience members will "attend our concert feeling they've had a wonderful experience rather than just having gone to a concert. Our audience sings with us and laughs. We add a lot of variety. We have fun, and the audience does as well."

More by Irene Messina

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