breaking news

Trump endorses Kemp for governor 

Life with Gracie: ‘Rewind’: Atlanta Women’s Chorus takes a look back


After 16 years supervising performing arts teachers in Cobb County schools, Melissa Arasi was starting to miss being in the classroom, making music, so much so she’d fancied starting her own chorus.

As fate would have it one day in 2012, she discovered a former Walton High School student singing with the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus. She sensed, looking at his Facebook posts, that he’d landed in a good place, still doing what he loved, and naturally it warmed her heart.

Arasi clicked on a link to view more photos, and right then and there, she had stumbled upon an ad for a conductor on the AGMC website.

“I turned to my husband and said I think this might be my chorus,” she said recently, her eyes dancing like a crystal ball in a darkened room.

At that moment, the Atlanta Women’s Chorus was just an idea, born by the gay men’s chorus. While it wasn’t exactly a novel idea, it was certainly in line with the wishes of the Atlanta Feminist Chorus when it disbanded in 2009 and passed its library of music to the men.

Anyway, Arasi interviewed and auditioned for the job in October 2012. She was handed the job in November.

RELATED |Atlanta Women’s Chorus marks anniversary with “Rewind: The First Five Years”

In no time, she was rifling through her contacts, reaching out to former students and music teachers, members of the feminist chorus and encouraging them to audition. She whittled the prospects down from 50 to about 38 and in January 2013 began rehearsals.

In March, they were ready to go, performing for the first time at the men’s concert before an audience that was used to, well, men singing.

They were young, but there was nothing in the three-song performance that said immaturity. Post-concert surveys indicated the women not only looked the part, but they sounded good, too

“I think they thought we weren’t going to be very good, but

we did a very fine presentation for our first performance,” Arasi remembered recently.

They had essentially sewn up their place on the Atlanta choral scene.

That was five years ago. Next month, the Atlanta Women’s Chorus will mark its anniversary with two performances of “Rewind: The First Five Years” at Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, in Atlanta, the site of its debut concert.

For as long as she can remember, music has been a part of Arasi’s life.

“My parents bought a piano before they bought a TV,” she said. “They and all three girls sang at church. I was 5 or 6 when I sang my first solo at church. That was just what you did.”

A self-described “little country girl,” she was born and raised in Cherokee County. Performing extended from Bascomb United Methodist Church to Etowah High School, where she was a member of the band, first as a flag girl and then as a bassoon player.

RELATED |Georgia Festival Chorus’ 90-year-old leader has own rich history

But singing was her passion and it showed. In the summer of her junior year, Arasi’s voice earned her a place in the Governor’s Honors Program. And when she auditioned for a spot at Shorter College, then considered a music school mecca, she earned a scholarship.

In 1987, Arasi earned a bachelor of arts degree in music and a job with the Cobb County schools, teaching music part time at Lewis Elementary and Walton High in Cobb. After one semester, she was hired full time at Walton to build its choral program.

Within two years, chorus was booming. Arasi loved connecting with her students. She joined the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus and enrolled at Georgia State to pursue a master’s degree and then a Ph.D.

In 2001, Arasi left Walton to become the supervisor of performing arts in the district’s central office. By then, the program had grown from 50 students to more than 250.

She retired from Cobb last year after nearly 30 years only to return to the classroom and music last summer at Reinhardt University as coordinator of music education.

Now as she looks back on the past five years with the Atlanta Women’s Chorus, it’s hard not to pinch herself.

“It’s a special place,” Arasi said. “Women can really be rough on each other, but this is such a warm, welcoming, accepting group of women.”

RELATED |DeKalb businessman Tom Stokes a ‘paragon’ to Georgia Boy Choir

Members range in age from 23 to 65. Some are stay-at-home moms, but the vast majority work. One is a Methodist minister. Some are teachers. Some are attorneys or corporate recruiters. All of them enjoy singing.

But, according to Arasi, their performances have never been just about singing to audiences. It’s about providing an experience.

“That’s been the greatest joy of this group,” she said. “We want to share what we feel and pull our audience in. The days of standing and singing are pretty much over. It still happens, but because of the world we live in, if we were to never move and only do classical music, I don’t think we’d have much of an audience.

“For us, our mission is changing hearts and minds. If you’re not doing things to engage them, you’re missing the mark now. Audiences want to feel a part of something. It’s much more of a collaborative and inclusive process.”

Sometimes that has meant inviting audience members to the stage to dance to Celtic music. And other times, adding videos to illustrate the seasons of the year as the choir sang “Follow the Sun.”

“It’s really kind of cool if I say so myself,” Arasi said, her eyes twinkling again.

“Rewind” promises to give us a little bit of all of that, drawing favorite songs from the past five years’ concerts.

But don’t forget “Rewind” is no more just about singing than are Arasi and her 70-voice choir.

It’s about making connections. You’ll have to see it to believe it.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

CONCERT PREVIEW

“Rewind: The First Five Years”

2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 17. $30 from Jan. 20 through Feb. 16 for adults; $35 at the door: $15 for children. Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, 1026 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta. www.voicesofnote.org/awc/.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

Georgia Archives to celebrate 100th anniversary with August dinner
Georgia Archives to celebrate 100th anniversary with August dinner

The Georgia Archives was founded in 1918 in a small room in the State Capitol. On August 18, its centennial will be celebrated at a special dinner. The event begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Georgia Archives — now at 5800 Jonesboro Road in Morrow — with a reception, tours and an exhibit on Georgia’s earliest land records. Next, those attending...
New trailer for Queen biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ released
New trailer for Queen biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ released

Fans of Queen are getting another look at the upcoming biopic of the band that created the iconic songs “We are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You.” The second trailer released features not only those two hits, but also gives a peek into the movie version of how the band came up with the operatic sections of the film&rsquo...
YA author’s Decatur home shows off her literary flair, ‘chicken fortress’
YA author’s Decatur home shows off her literary flair, ‘chicken fortress’

When author Jackson Pearce is not writing, she enjoys tackling DIY projects, such as tiling the backsplash and installing a farmhouse-style sink in her kitchen, or building a “chicken fortress” in her Decatur backyard. “There were lots of odd challenges with this renovation, since it was bigger than anything we’d taken on before...
Bare-chested Jeff Goldblum statue appears in London park on ‘Jurassic Park’ anniversary
Bare-chested Jeff Goldblum statue appears in London park on ‘Jurassic Park’ anniversary

A 25-foot statue of actor Jeff Goldblum, posing open-shirted in a famous pose from “Jurassic Park” has appeared at Potters Field Park in London. It honors the 25th anniversary of the release of the first installment of “Jurassic Park” in the United Kingdom, USA Today reports. The statue depicts Goldblum’s character...
Tropical hibiscus needs regular feeding

Q: Our hibiscus did not bloom this year after doing so for the last four years. It winters in our home and was fed blood meal once in winter and again in early spring. Chuck Mathis, Powder Springs A: Tropical hibiscus needs lots of vigorously growing leaves in order to flower well. It is likely the nutrients from blood meal have washed out of the soil...
More Stories