The glorious voices of the Mayfield Women’s Ensemble won top honors, including the Best Overall Choir award, at the prestigious WorldStrides San Francisco Heritage festival over the weekend, elevating our singers to the highest echelons of high school choirs in the nation.
The choir received top scores of excellence in four categories: Best Women’s Ensemble, the Adjudicators Award for a score above 90 on a 100-point scale, a Gold Award invitation to sing next year a national venue, and the crown jewel of awards, Best Overall Choir.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the girls, they were truly awesome,” said Choir Director Andrew Alvarez. “They sang so beautifully and were so poised—all their hard work paid off.”
For the students, especially the seniors, the accolades represented a momentous culmination of exacting hours of practice with girls who have become like a second family.
“Honestly? It’s such an incredible form of bonding to sing with people—and we sing better because we all get along,” said Michelle New ’18, a four-year choir member. “Our singing is tighter and it’s cleaner because we are close friends.”
As the awards were announced in a cavernous auditorium at California’s Great America theme park in San Jose, choir members jubilantly broke out in cheers and high-fives like championship athletes as they were handed two towering trophies.
The 39-member choir has been practicing their highly challenging repertoire since last August—and it all came down to three songs performed before a panel of professional choral directors and college professors. Mr. Alvarez chose pieces that “are not songs that a high school choir typically sings.”
The most difficult song, Alleluia, Cantate Domino has been called a dramatic tour de force for women’s choir, highly rhythmic, and loaded with melodic interest. Mr. Alvarez said the girls had to master “interpretive nuances and four tonal and texture changes” to successfully perform the piece. They began learning it by counting it out in parts for weeks, then layering in the music and adding pitches.
Several choir members said the most rewarding moment came after they sang the first song on stage, Ah! Si mon moine voulait danser,a light and fun folk song believed to have been sung in France before the 17th century.
Mr. Alvarez, who is not known for effusive compliments, paused and took a breath.
“He looked at us and whispered ‘it was beautiful,’ ” Michelle said. “I thought I was going to cry and I started blinking a lot so tears wouldn’t run down my face. At that moment we all felt so happy.”
Choir members said that Mr. Alvarez’s high standards, precision and the demanding music inspire them to work hard—and they know he believes in them.
“He takes girls who have never been in choir, have never had classical training, girls with tonal issues and he makes it work,” said Carmen Mascarenhas ’18. “He doesn’t give up on you.”
Carmen said she had a difficult solo in Alleluia, Cantate Domino and kept ending up on a note that was two pitches too high.
“He could have given it to another singer, but he didn’t,” she said. “He kept helping me, advising me, telling me how to fix it—and in the end it worked out.”
Angeli De La Cruz ’18 said the girls have respect for Mr. Alvarez because “he never turns anyone down and will work with us until we figure out how to fix it. He does not give up on you.”
In an especially poignant concert on the way up north, the choir stopped in Mr. Alvarez’s hometown of Porterville and performed a special concert for his 87-year-old mother, his family and two local high school choirs that he has strong ties with. His sisters and friends provided an an old-fashioned buffet dinner!
But perhaps the most revealing moment of their championship day came on the bus ride back to the hotel, with two towering trophies taking up two seats.
“Ladies, what do we always remember to say?” Mr. Alvarez asked.
“Raise the bar higher,” they all responded in perfect harmony.