San Francisco Girls Chorus

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San Francisco Girls Chorus is a regional center for music education and performance for girls and young women, ages 7–18, based in San Francisco. More than 300 singers from 160 schools in 48 San Francisco Bay Area cities and towns participate in this internationally recognized program. The Chorus has been described as "a model in the country for training girls' voices" by the California Arts Council.

SFGC was founded by Elizabeth Appling, who served as the organization's Artistic Director until her retirement in 1992. She was succeeded by Sharon J. Paul, who led the chorus until just after its 21st Anniversary in 2000. The chorus underwent an interim year under the leadership of Magen Solomon, after which the helm was passed on to Susan McMane. After Susan, the position was split into two parts -- Music Director and Artistic Director. The current music director and principal conductor is Martinique native Valerie Saint-Agathe, who has been with SFGC since 2013. She is known, among many other things, for her two-time recieval of the Orphée d'Or Award, her group's participation in Victoires de la Musique, an annual French award ceremony broadcast on live French television, and her work with SFGC with the Knights at the New York Philarmonic Biennial Festival at Lincoln Center and again at the SHIFT Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and with the Philip Glass Ensemble at Carnegie Hall Spring 2018. The current artistic director is Lisa Bielawa, who is well known for her broadcasts in Berlin at former Tempelhof Airport (Spring 2013), and at Crissy Field in San Francisco (Fall 2013), as well as her recent made-for-film opera Vireo, which featured members of SFGC, and her work as a keyboardist and vocalist in the Philip Glass Ensemble. Bielawa currently resides in New York.

In 2011, The San Francisco Girls Chorus collaborated with composer Tania Leon and award-winning poet and writer Carlos Pintado on “Rimas Tropicales”, based on Carlos Pintado’s poetry.

The Chorus School[edit]

The Chorus School of SFGC comprises four training stages that are specifically designed to increase technical skills, stamina and discipline in accordance with the chorister's age and physical development. The Chorus School has been supervised since its inception by Elizabeth Avakian, who also directs Level IV.

  • Level I provides the foundation for the singers' training in the Chorus School. Singers learn the basics of music theory and how to sing together as a group.
  • Level II requires singers delve into slightly more challenging theory and music. Girls may begin to learn basic choreography to accompany some of their pieces. This chorus generally sings two-part music, occasionally three.
  • Level III singers continue to learn music and theory at an increased difficulty. The concept of adjusting the voice for blending with the voices around it becomes more prominent. This chorus generally sings three and four part music. These choristers also begin to learn "IPA" or "International Phonetic Alphabet."
  • Level IV In the final level of the Chorus School, singers continue their study of theory and generally sing in four parts, sometimes more. Level IV has a strenuous Christmas performance season and then go on to sing many more concerts than the previous three levels throughout the rest of the school year. Singers may also be selected from Level IV to appear in performances with the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony. In 2008 the girls were proud to sing in three operas: Boris Godunov, La Bohème, and Die Tote Stadt. In 2011 they participated in the two operas: Turandot and Carmen. A few other girls participated in Mahler's 3rd Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. They have continued to participate in operas with SFO, Opera Parallele, and other companies. Because it is the last level of the chorus school, Level IV girls have more expected from them.

The Level IV Ensemble is a smaller, select group of girls within Level IV. Girls who wish to join must audition during the Chorus' Summer Music camp. The Ensemble has occasional extra practices, as well as many extra performances. They are asked to perform when the venues are too small to accommodate the entire Level IV. Most of their performances are around Christmas and in the Spring. They sometimes memorize extra verses to songs the rest of the chorus learns.

At the end of the season, Level IV choristers must pass a theory-based qualifying exam before being considered for graduation from the Chorus School. At the graduation ceremony, graduating young women are presented with a gold pin (worn in performancde if they return to LIV). Once graduated, choristers may either choose to audition for Chorissima, return to level IV, or leave the Chorus.

More detail about the curriculum can be found here: SFGC: Curriculum

Chorissima and the Alumnae Chorus[edit]


Chorissima is the concert, recording, and touring ensemble of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and is conducted by Artistic Director Valerie Sante-Agaite. The dedicated young artists of the ensemble, ages 11–18, present a season concert series in the San Francisco Bay Area, tour nationally and internationally, and appear regularly with renowned artistic partners, including the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony. Chorissima has also performed with numerous esteemed Bay Area ensembles such as Chanticleer, Kronos Quartet, Berkeley Symphony, ODC/Dance, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, and others.

Chorissima has undertaken ten international tours, one of which was in July 2007 when the ensemble represented the United States in the World Vision Children's Choir Festival in Seoul, South Korea, and in the Gateway to Music Festival at the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing. In August 2005, Chorissima was invited to perform at the prestigious 7th World Symposium on Choral Music in Kyoto and also at the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan.

Chorissima performed at the inauguration of President Barack Obama in January 2009. They sang a total of 20 minutes, as a prelude to the ceremony.

Before Cuba was recently opened to US citizens to visit, Chorissima toured there in July 2011, visiting Havana, Santa Clara, and Matanzas on an international tour.

They sang in the New York Biennial in 2016. They were the only group from outside NY invited to perform there.

In 2017, they sang with the Knights at the SHIFT Festival, at the Kennedy Center.

Most recently, they were invited to sing with Phillip Glass at Carnegie Hall. They performed the ninety-minute Music With Changing Parts, the work's debut performance with women's chorus. This was an extremely important performance, as this composition is considered a piece that changed music in the 70's.

The San Francisco Girls Chorus has produced nine solo CD recordings including: Voices of Hope and Peace that includes "Anne Frank: A Living Voice" by an American composer Linda Tutas Haugen; Christmas, a selection of diverse holiday songs; Crossroads, a collection of world folk music; Music From the Venetian Ospedali, a disc of Italian Baroque music, for which The New Yorker proclaimed the Chorus "tremendously accomplished;" and Heaven and Earth, using recordings from 2008-09. This CD is their first double-disc release.

Chorissima's most recent solo CD recording is Final Answer, featuring works by composers Philip Glass, Lisa Bielawa, Gabriel Kahane, John Zorn, Carla Kihlstedt, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Sahba Aminikia, Matthew Welch and Theo Bleckmann. This album gives light to a more modern, contemporary take on choral music, reflecting SFGC's growing focus. Chorissima has worked recently with artists such as the Kronos Quartet (featured on Final Answer), the Knights, and the Phillip Glass Ensemble, embracing contemporary and minimalist styles of choral music.

The ensemble can also be heard on several recordings with the San Francisco Symphony, including three GRAMMY award-winning CDs Orff: Carmina Burana (1992); Stravinsky: The Firebird, The Rite of Spring, Persephone (1999); Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (2008); and Mahler: Symphony No. 3 and Kindertotenlieder (2004). Chorissima has appeared in two feature films, The Talented Mr. Ripley (2000) and What Dreams May Come (1998).

Chorissima is professionally represented by California Artists Management.

Alumnae Chorus[edit]

The San Francisco Girls Chorus Alumnae Chorus, directed by the Artistic Director, took the stage for the first time in concert Sunday, December 2, 2007 at St. John's Presbyterian Church, San Francisco. This ensemble is composed of women from mid-teens to mid-thirties, all of whom are graduates of the San Francisco Girls Chorus School. Some are laureates of the San Francisco Girls Chorus (Chorissima). The Alumnae Chorus has two scheduled performances per season. The Alumnae Chorus is featured on the newest CD release Heaven and Earth (2009).

Summer Music Camp[edit]

Chorus camp is for Levels II, III, IV and Chorissima. (Level II attendance is not mandatory.)

It is held at Rio Lindo Adventist Academy in Healdsburg, California.

The girls prepare their music for the regular season, have classes in Music Theory, Sightsinging, and Dance. They also participate in fun activities such as the Counselor Hunt, Big sister/Little sister Night and the Square Dance.


  • Heaven and Earth (2009)
  • Voices of Hope and Peace (2006)
  • Christmas (2003)
  • Crossroads (2000)
  • Music from the Venetian Ospedali (1998)
  • I Never Saw Another Butterfly; Songs of the Twentieth Century (1996)
  • A San Francisco Christmas (1996)
  • Final Answer (2018)

SFGC Music [1]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • The San Francisco Girls Chorus were invited to perform along with the San Francisco Boys Chorus in Washington D.C. on Jan. 20, 2009 as part of the historic swearing-in ceremonies of President Barack Obama. They are the only children's choruses to receive this honor.[1]
  • One of only eleven San Francisco arts organizations and the only choral organization, as well as the first youth chorus, to be awarded a Wallace Foundation Excellence Award (2007).
  • First youth chorus to win the Margaret Hillis Achievement Award for Choral Excellence presented by Chorus America (2002).
  • Winner of 2 ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music which recognized the Chorus' 20th and 25th Anniversary programming (2000 and 2004), featuring commissions by composers Lisa Bielawa, Jake Heggie, Chen Yi, Linda Tutas Haugen, Alice Parker and Libby Larsen.
  • Wayne Brown, Director of Music, National Endowment for the Arts, presented the Chorus with a Chorus America Award recognizing the Girls Chorus' artistic excellence for its performance on San Francisco Symphony's Grammy Award-winning recording, Stravinsky (2000).
  • Five Grammy Awards, received for collaborations with the San Francisco Symphony on: Orff: Carmina Burana (1992), Stravinsky: The Firebird, The Rite of Spring, Persephone (1999), and Mahler: Symphony No. 3 and Kindertotenlieder (2004).
  • Awarded Selected Performer at the 7th World Symposium on Choral Music, Kyoto, Japan (August 2005).


  1. ^ Benson, Heidi (2009-01-17). "S.F. boys, girls choruses go to Washington". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 

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