SCRANTON — “Oh, where are our dear mothers?” the song asks. “Where are our dear sisters?”
“Some have gone to heaven shouting,” it continues. “Some are in the valley praying.”
And some are in the Voce Angeli choir singing “Bright Morning Star,” with words handed down in Appalachian-style oral tradition and arrangement by present-day composer Joan Szymko.
As they prepare for “The Strength of Women” concert, set for Aug. 19 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the close to 20 voices of the all-female choir are rehearsing songs by female composers and directing their efforts to help the Women’s Resource Center of Northeast Pennsylvania.
“It’s an honor to be able to sing for a purpose,” said soprano Kathy Shucosky, of Kingston. “It’s not just ‘let’s sing some pretty songs and make people happy.’ All the proceeds will benefit a very worthy group.”
“I’m actually a caseworker for the commonwealth, and a lot of the clients I work with have benefited from them,” said alto Marcie Riebe, of Scranton, praising the Women’s Resource Center for its work to end domestic and sexual violence.
The name “Voce Angeli” hints at a heavenly sound, and the singers admit the combination of their efforts gives them a celestial feeling.
“Sometimes we’ll finish a piece and it’s echoing in the church, and we think, ‘Wow, is that us?’” Schucoski said. “It is impressive.”
That sound is a collaborative effort, said Jenna Ash, of Scranton, who is the artistic coordinator but doesn’t conduct.
“We look to each other for guidance. We breathe together,” she said, explaining how the group members arrange themselves in a semi-circle. “We try to be in sync with eye contact and body movement.”
That formation “allows us to hear one another better and allows us to engage each other visually and derive cues and energy from each other,” added singer Michelle Yadouga, of Clarks Summit.
Audience members can expect to hear the energy flow through a variety of music, including Sarah Quartel’s “Sanctum,” which was inspired by nature scenes and makes use of ancient Latin prayers, and Gwyneth Walker’s “Walk That Valley,” which Ash described as based on a traditional American spiritual.
“It’s all about walking that lonesome valley by yourself … that feeling of not knowing where to turn, feelings of confusion,” Ash said. “At the end, you will find strength to go onward.”
This is the second annual concert for Voce Angeli, which last year raised more than $500 for a Scranton-based, emergency-assistance program called SafetyNet.
Many of the singers participate in other choral groups from fall through spring and assemble as Voce Angeli only in the summer. “I used to look forward to summers off (from rehearsals),” Yadouga said. “But now I look forward to this much more.”