The female voice is a beautiful musical instrument, given the range it can have and the sounds it can create.
You will hear that on "Wondrous Love," the debut CD by the BYU Women's Chorus, says chorus director Jean Applonie.
You will hear the expressiveness of the voices and musicality of the chorus. She also hopes you will hear the spirit with which they sing. That's every bit as important, she says, and the CD is filled with spirit.
For the Women's Chorus, the CD marks an important step. For a long time, it has seemed to be somewhat lost in the shadow of the more famous BYU Men's Chorus. Although the women have appeared on CDs and DVDs that have featured all of the auditioned choirs at the university, they have not had their own project until now.
That's partly because of the way the group was set up, says Applonie. For a long time, it was under the direction of a graduate student conductor. "It was considered the plum job for any grad student, and that was good for the graduate program," says Applonie, who had that assignment when she was in graduate school at BYU. So, there was some reluctance to give that up.
But, because the other auditioned choirs are conducted by faculty members, "the Women's Chorus began begging for the stability of a single director," she says. "I got the call from (BYU) President (Cecil) Samuelson in the spring of 2004, asking if I would be interested."
How could she not be? she asks. So, she took over for the fall semester 2004.
"At that time, Ron Staheli, head of the choral programs in the music department, told me to start thinking about a recording project."
"Wondrous Love" is the culmination of years of work, featuring the best numbers by the various women who have come through the program.
"We looked for a good amount of variety," Applonie says. "That's especially important for a women's chorus, because of its narrower range. We also wanted differences in tempo and style. There are some stellar performances represented here."
As you would expect with the BYU choirs, the content leans toward religious and uplifting lyric content, but there are also "some lighthearted excursions into both contemporary theme and rhythmic exuberance."
The opening number combines the familiar lyrics of the famous "Amazing Grace" with an early American hymn melody not usually associated with that text. The title song and hymns, such as "Where Can I Turn for Peace," add contemplative elements, as does the beautiful "The Snow" by a young Edward Elgar.
"For Good" is a tip of the hat to the popularity of the Broadway musical "Wicked."
BYU graduate Nathan Christensen, who lives in New York, joins the choir for a jazz-tinged setting of the Elizabeth Barrett Browning lyric, "How Do I Love Thee."
With 15 tracks in all, the CD offers other familiar and less-familiar pieces of folk, classical and modern music done in the rich, full-bodied style of the choir.
With approximately 170 members, the BYU Women's Chorus may just be the largest collegiate women's chorus in the country. It's unusual to have one this big, Applonie says. "Most have anywhere from 20 to 80 members. We are this big because we can be."
Getting into the chorus is a very competitive process. "We start fresh every year. Everyone has to audition. That keeps it fresh, keeps anyone from getting complacent."
And every year, "we have to turn so many very good singers away." There is so much talent out there that the chorus could easily be twice that size, she says. But for maximum sound, "we don't want to get much larger. That's the one thing about women's groups: If you get too many singers, it can be ear-splitting. Still, it's a blessing to have that kind of talent pool to draw from."
So, even if the chorus doesn't grow in size, "we continue to grow in other exciting ways," Applonie says. It is a pleasure each year to assemble an "ensemble of such wonderful students" and to see where they can go.
It's fun, she says, to select the music for them to sing. "That's such an important decision. I go to conferences and conventions where I hear the latest music."
She always tries to bring in something new. "Then there are the classics, and I like to explore different time periods." You just never know, she says, who a single piece of music might inspire.
"Wondrous Love" is a "really good representation of our first three years. But we've already started looking toward a new one," Applonie says.
"We hope to be a strong addition to the women's choruses out there. We are really lucky in that not many universities have their own recording label. We just hope we can strengthen the genre of women's music."
"Wondrous Love" has been released on BYU's Tantara Records label. For more information, visit www.TantaraRecords.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, the BYU Bookstore and other places where LDS music is sold.