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Across the Lines

Sister Singers Network Newsletter

Table of Contents

Editor Lines

by Rita Kissen
Welcome to the newly revived Sister Singers Network newsletter! At last summer’s meeting in Minnesota, the Sister Singers Network (SSN) member representatives decided begin publishing an SSN newsletter, after many years’ hiatus, and I volunteered to serve as editor of the new edition of Across the Lines. During our 31-year history, the SSN newsletter has had several incarnations, most recently in the 1990s, when “Across the Lines” brought news of Network festivals and meetings as well as individual chorus activities to our members and friends. Now that we are well into the 21st century, Across the Lines will be an internet-based newsletter, distributed via MailChimp.

After this first issue, our plan is to publish two issues a year, featuring Network Lines, Chorus Lines, Composer Lines, Director Lines, and any other news that you would like to share with the Network. Frequency of publication will depend on content suggested by members (and on volunteer time available to work on the newsletter).This newsletter is yours! The second issue is planned for fall 2016 and will provide information about discussions at the July 2, 2016, SSN meeting in Denver. Please send your informaiton for inclusion in the next issue by September 1 to

We hereby present the first issue, and hope that you, our member choruses and friends, will send submissions for future issues. Please share this newsletter with members of your chorus and others who might be interested in Sister Singers Network activities and choruses. Encourage them to subscribe directly by clicking here!

Chorus Lines

In this section of Across the Lines, we’ll be featuring news from individual choruses. This issue highlights a call for commission proposals from long-time SSN member and former festival host Artemis Singers. Artemis seeks proposals from composers with the following qualifications:

  • Lesbian feminist woman composer (not a member of Artemis Singers in the past 5 years)
  • Feminist political song, related to or about lesbians
  • 4 part harmony: SSAA
  • A cappella or with piano and/or percussion instrumental accompaniment
  • Approximately three minutes in length

Proposals are due September 1, 2016. For more information, please visit the Artemis Singers website,

Network Lines

How (and Why) To Host a Sister Singers Network Choral Festival—To Make Sure There Is One!

by Midge Stocker
Sister Singers Network is unlike other organizations. We exist only due to the interest, desire, and effort of our members. We have no staff and no legal form. We are truly a network of sister singers.

We love sharing with one another. And the live, in-person sharing that happens at our festivals is part of the magic that keeps us going, as individual choruses and as a network. When we’re in the concert hall, live, listening to the set that our sister chorus prepared to share with us—hearing songs we’ve never heard before but know right away that we want to add to our own repertoire, hearing songs that we’ve sung ourselves but with a different interpretation, hearing choruses represented by only 6 singers because the others were caught in a blizzard, hearing choruses of more than 100 singers and knowing we’ll be performing with full representation at 21 singers—we appreciate every song, every interpretation, every chance to learn from one another, by listening, by talking, by singing together.

There’s something unique and special about SSN Choral Festivals. Part of that uniqueness is that SSN Choral Festivals only happen when one of our member choruses steps up to host. If there’s no host, there’s no festival.

For Sister Singers Network, the thing about not having a formal organization to rely on is that we all have to share the effort, with different choruses and individuals stepping up to the mic at different times. Love those live performances!

As with all stepping up to microphones, we know there’s a certain amount of anxiety involved, along with exhilaration, even for the most prepared among us. To help with that, after the 2001 festival, hosted by Grand Rapids Women’s Chorus and Sistrum, Lansing Women’s Chorus, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we developed the Early Planning Document (EPD), a guide to developing a proposal to host an SSN Festival. The EPD describes the top items to consider when preparing a proposal to host an SSN Choral Festival: Performance Space, Festival Activities, Housing/Accommodations, Transportation, Food, Accessibility, Recording/Archiving, and Communications (including Registration).

When your chorus is ready to step up to host the next SSN festival, remember that resources are available to assist you. SSN provides seed money with which to enter into contracts. You will have access to past festival planning materials, and experienced individuals within our network are willing and excited to help. The resources of SSN and the Steering Committee are available for guidance and clarification of policy.

If you have any questions at all, or are just thinking about hosting and want to talk, please reach out to me, Midge Stocker ( As co-chair of the 2010 Sister Singers Network Women’s Choral Festival, hosted by Artemis Singers, Chicago’s Lesbian Feminist Chorus, I’m happy to talk with you and/or to put you in touch with someone else who can answer your specific questions. Just take a deep breath and let go!

A Short Herstory of Athena's Fire

by Marcia Smith

In the Fall of 2009, I was wishing for a way to make music.  I was in the midst of several big life events including the death of my mother, and I was also experiencing large chorus burn out. I decided to try starting a small singing group of my own.

Sometimes small is beautiful. I found a few others including several former Renaissance City Women's Choir singers who were also not able to make the large chorus commitment but welcomed the chance to sing: Robin, Linda, Nancy, Sandy and I began to rehearse weekly at Robin's house. My qualifications to lead a singing group - I was a lifelong singer from home to school to various choirs. I had some vocal training but played no instrument as neither my childhood piano lessons nor adult guitar lessons had taken hold. My main qualification was that I was willing to do it.

We performed a show at a local favorite spot - the Square Cafe, and raised money for charity. Somehow we managed to get ourselves to the Sister Singers Festival in Chicago and had an amazing time.  It was a great beginning, and the following year we added a few more singers, an accompanist, and managed a show with a theme:  the concept was a feminist radio station: WOMB.  We were lucky to recruit local public radio DJ Rosemary Welsch to be our emcee/DJ, and Brenda Jean was our first special musical guest.

Over the next few years we struggled with change - some singers left and others joined. We found it a challenge to get a quorum at rehearsal between snow and illness and several singers helping mothers who were ailing - some in distant states!  We put on another show at the Square Cafe with special guest Tracy Drach. After that we went several years without being able to manage a full length concert.

It was pretty crazy having to adapt to a constantly changing attendance. Our accompanist situation varied from none, to volunteer, to paid and included one volunteer we had to "fire." About half of our singers are retired, and almost half don't drive a car and depend on a ride or a bus. Over half have lost their mothers or are currently helping care for their mothers. I was sometimes tempted to just give up!

But the music and the wonderful friendships kept us all coming back. Starting last year we decided to take December, January and February off. No more fighting the snow, ice and cold of the Pittsburgh winter. We found a wonderful volunteer pianist who lives in the same block as our rehearsal location. We even got to premiere a song composed by one of our members, Gay Kakohnen. She set a poem that I wrote about my Mom - something we can all relate to! Last fall we put on our first full length concert in over 2 years. (Please contact me if you would like to consider adding it to your repertoire!)

The main lesson I have learned through the years with Athena's Fire is to go with the flow. Be ready to adapt. You know that saying  "the only thing constant is change"? Well, it really applies to a small amateur singing group. A few constants have helped - Linda Puechl has been with me in the group since we started, and she is willing to try anything! She has contributed guitar playing, outfit making, and song-arranging. We have rehearsed at the home of Gaye Fifer for the past four years and also relied on her extensive sheet music collection and her ability to lead a rehearsal at a moment's notice.

Speaking of Gaye Fifer, she has the longest tenure of any of us in women's choirs. She was a member of the St. Louis Women's Choir back at the time when they along with the Kansas City Women's Choir had a retreat and the idea for the Sister Singers Network was born. When Gaye moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, she wanted to keep singing. So in 1984 she founded and for ten years directed the Charlottesville Women's Choir. After moving to Pittsburgh, Gaye still wanted to sing, but her busy schedule as a folk dance caller made it difficult to sinc schedules. After a few years, Athena's Fire changed its rehearsal night so Gaye could join us, and we began to meet at Gaye's large and centrally located house.

I wish we could have attended the Sister Singers Festival of 2014, but our members have too many family responsibilities and not enough funds to make that happen. Despite that we are thankful for the existence of Sister Singers and the email list, which is a great source of shared knowledge. While we are one of the smallest and most informal members of Sister Singers, our goals are like most - to sing songs that are beautiful, fun, and political; to raise funds for local charities; and to perform for community events.

Despite all the changes we have been through, Athena's Fire 2016 is a group of women who first and foremost support each other. We have no divas or drama queens. We are looking forward to an encore performance of "Do All You Can," our Fall 2015 show.  Unorthodox programming? Yes. But that's the beauty of being free agents. Our next plan is to do an unorthodox holiday program in early December, as well as bring some of that music to the nursing home where one of our mothers resides. Wish us luck!

Sisters Envision a More Networked Network: Sister Singers Network 2015 Annual Meeting Highlights

by Argerie Vasilakes
On July 25 and 26, 2015, Sister Singers Network members met in Eagan, Minnesota to brainstorm and commit to actions to enliven our wide network. The group of 19 women from 10 choruses built on the excitement of the previous year’s festival and looked ahead to when we might have another. If a chorus or two volunteer to host a festival, it will be in 2018. Here’s a recap of that vibrant weekend.

Meeting participants shared their wishes for this meeting. First, they wished to find out about any choruses who were considering hosting the 2018 festival. They also wanted to begin planning the SSN presence during the GALA Festival in Denver in summer 2016. The biggest wish was for SSN members to stay connected with each other throughout the year. This theme continued throughout the gathering.

Host, Sue (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN), adds to the SSN wish list, while Anastasia (Columbus, OH) takes notes and Angie (Cincinnati, OH), Jan (Cleveland, OH), and Julie (DeKalb, IL) listen.

Three small groups imagined a future in 2018 of SSN as a more networked network. They wrote word and drew pictures on posters and presented their visions in the form of magazine cover stories.

Denise (Cincinnati, OH) described her group’s “Song Story,” a future tale in which regional concerts “proved that music has no boundaries.” The story featured an imagined photo of choruses from different cities singing together, portraits of commissioned composer, and a sketch of a calendar showing all Network members’ concert dates.

“A Network in Action” was presented by Annie (Asheville, NC). Her group envisioned members, who -- connected by social media – were quoted as saying, “Hi, I’m from Artemis Singers and I went to the MUSE concert that I learned about through Facebook,” and “I’m moving back to Boston and I looked at the SSN website and found Voices Rising to join.” Their magazine story included a sidebar about digitized concert programs uploaded to the SSN website. The story highlighted a hypothetical new 18 choruses that joined SSN by 2018 because of an active network.

A third magazine cover read, “In Tune: Sisters in Song,” and outlined an enormously popular SSN newsletter – in its third year of publication by 2018. Anastasia (Columbus, OH) represented the group that imagined a regular digital periodical which shared news across the network about concerts, outreach across choruses, music repertoire, and composer and director profiles. This idea turned into a project edited by Rita Kissen (CO).

In addition to the newsletter, participants agreed to the ideas they most cared about and planned how to advance them. The list includes:

  • Find a host for a 2018 festival. Several gathered agreed to discuss with their choruses back home. The SSN Early Planning Document on the SSN website includes details for hosts.
  • SSN Google Calendar on which all member chorus concert dates would be posted. Annual meeting participants agreed to pilot this idea immediately.
  • Go to another chorus’s concert. Those present agreed to attend another chorus’s concert or rehearsal before the 2016 annual meeting.
  • Plan the 2016 annual meeting.  Diana (Chicago, IL) took the lead. See updates elsewhere in this issue.

Pleased with the proceedings are Bebe (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN), Anastasia (Columbus, OH), Carol (Washington, DC), Alyssandra and Midge (Chicago IL).

Participating in the annual meeting were: Alyssandra McKaye, Diana Clegg & Midge Stocker of Artemis Singers, Chicago's Lesbian Feminist Chorus (IL); Julie Lieving of Bread & Roses Women's Chorus (DeKalb, IL); Bebe Magee, Cyndi Hopper, Dani Robinson, Melody Werner and Susan Flynn of Calliope Women's Chorus (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN); Anastasia Thomas and Lori A LeClair of Columbus Women's Chorus (OH); Carol Wheeler of Fortissima: DC's Feminist Singers (Washington, DC); Julie Brock, Angie Denov and Denise Taylor of MUSE: Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir (OH); Erica Mauter of Twin Cities Women's Choir (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN); Argerie Vasilakes and Jan C Snow of Windsong: Cleveland's Feminist Chorus (OH); Annie Doucette of Womansong of Asheville (NC); and Rita Kissen, Independent Singer/SSN Herstorian (CO, formerly of Women in Harmony, ME).


by Midge Stocker and Rita Kissen

Sister Singers Network will be an active participant in the 2016 GALA Festival, and we invite all member choruses to attend, whether or not your chorus is affiliated with GALA.

GALA Choruses is a network of more than 190 LGBTQ choruses in the United States, Mexico, and Canada and holds a quadrennial Festival that brings together over 130 choruses and 6000 singers for the world’s largest LGBT performing arts event. This year’s GALA Festival will take place in Denver, July 2-6, and will include a host of SSN-related events. Chorus membership in GALA is not required for participation, and individual singers are welcome!

The following is a list of SSN activities at this year's GALA Festival:

SSN Annual Meeting: Saturday 7/2, 9:30 a.m-2:30 p.m. (includes lunch) at Curtis Hotel

The Sister Singers Network annual meeting of the membership is being coordinated this summer with the GALA Festival in Denver. We hope this timing will make participation easier for choruses involved in both GALA and SSN.

As with all SSN annual meetings, our goal for Denver 2016 is to have at least 1 or 2 representatives from each SSN chorus attend the meeting. All members are welcome to attend. Meeting topics will include plans for the 2018 SSN Choral Festival, other future SSN events, finances, steering committee membership, and network communications. Meeting participants are encouraged to also join in the SSN workshop, to share your experiences with those unfamiliar with the network. Please send meeting topic suggestions to

SSN Workshop: Saturday 7/2, 2:30-3:30pm

at Curtis Hotel - Keepaway Room (1405 Curtis St)
SSN invites all women at the GALA festival to a dynamic workshop to get a behind-the-scenes look at Sister Singers Network and the rousing and soulful affect it produces among women singers throughout North America.

SSN Festival Chorus Rehearsal: Sunday 7/3, 8:30-10:00am
SSN Festival Chorus Performance: Sunday, 7/3, 7:00-8:30pm

You are invited to perform as part of a Sister Singers Network Festival Chorus at GALA's "Women’s Voices Rising," featuring "Lineage," the 2014 SSN-commissioned song by Andrea Ramsey. Directed for 2016 by Meredith Bowen of Sistrum, Lansing Women’s Chorus. Rehearsal at Curtis Hotel - Hopscotch Room (1405 Curtis St). Performance at Stage Theatre in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex.

More: Saturday 7/2 - Sunday 7/3

We encourage you to make the most of this opportunity for non-GALA members to participate in part of a GALA Festival. On Saturday 7/2, catch Holly Near as host of one of the festival Opening Concerts, or attend one of the many Saturday evening ensemble performances. On Sunday 7/3, go to some of the many chorus performances running all day long and join in the women's reception before the “Women’s Voices Rising” concert; attend “New Songs - Vibrant Voices” concert, including the world premiere of the first Roma Commission, by 15 SSAA choruses. Take some exuberant chorus energy home with you!


  1. Register online to participate in SSN Denver 2016 Activities.
  2. Additionally, each person who plans to participate in the SSN Festival Chorus performance and/or GALA Festival events, Friday 7/1 - Sunday 7/3, must send a copy of the SSN Registration form and payment to the GALA office: Robin Godfrey, GALA Choruses Inc., P.O. Box 99998, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

SSN Registrant Fee for GALA - $165

Fee Exceptions: To attend GALA events after Sunday, you'll need to register as a full GALA delegate, or buy tickets to individual concerts; check the GALA website for details on that. (You must also register for the SSN Activities, separately, if you plan to participate in those.)

GALA Delegates do not have to pay the SSN Registrant Fee, only the regular GALA delegate fee.

SSN members who wish to attend only the SSN annual meeting (not sing in the SSN Festival Chorus and not attend any GALA Festival events) do not have to pay the SSN Registrant fee.

Anyone traveling with you who will not be participating in the SSN Annual Meeting can register using this same registration process to be able to attend all the events outlined above, or they can purchase tickets to individual concerts from the Denver Performing Arts Complex box office.

Housing: Use the GALA Housing website to get the GALA rates: All of the Festival hotels are within a 5-block walk from the Denver Performing Arts Complex. The Festival Village runs on both sides of the 16th Street Mall, a mile-long pedestrian promenade lined with outdoor cafes, flower baskets and shops. Free shuttle buses leave either end as often as every 90 seconds and stop on every corner, making everything in downtown Denver easy to reach.

Copyright © 2016 Sister Singers Network, All rights reserved.

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