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All-female group performs contemporary pop alongside choral classics

Founded in 1974, Queens Chorale is the oldest all-female chorus group at Rutgers. They will be holding their end-of-semester concert later this month at the Kirkpatrick Chapel. – Photo by Courtesy of Samantha Urena

Queens Chorale is the oldest all-female, student-run chorus group on campus. Currently, they are preparing for their end-of-semester concert, which will be on April 23 at 4 p.m. in the Kirkpatrick Chapel.

School of Arts and Sciences senior Samantha Ureña, the president of the group, said Queens Chorale performs a wide range of music. A concert's program will typically be comprised of a mix of classical choral songs and pop music.

“Our director helps us choose the music,” Ureña said. “We choose and we have the final say, but she helps us set up a cohesive set to do for our concerts. We usually have about 15 songs or more that we do at each concert, so having that flow well, having it in an order that makes sense to tell a story, or to get a theme of some sort, she assists heavily in that.”

The group's director is Emily Sensenbach-Gopal, whom the students hired themselves. Ureña said that Queens Chorale is completely student-run, and is not associated with Mason Gross School of the Arts. 

Sensenbach-Gopal was hired in 2006 as the choir's accompanist and became the musical director in 2011.

Ureña said that concerts are often programmed around a particular theme. 

“We did one a couple years ago for one of our spring concerts where we did women power songs,” she said. “So we did a couple of love songs, like, 'Oh yes I love this person,' all that stuff. And then we also did 'your husband sucks.' We did this one song where it's about three different women's stories. One gets pregnant and the man leaves, all that stuff. We do a mix of music and try to have a central theme.”

Queens Chorale currently has 14 members, which is smaller than the average of 30 members. In the past, it has been larger, with as many as 50 students being part of the group. Ureña said the group has members from a variety of skill levels and backgrounds.

“Sometimes we end up teaching them to read music, but honestly you don't really need to read music to sing,” Ureña said. “As long as you know where the notes are going and you can memorize things, it's pretty easy once you get it. There are girls who read music and play piano, who can play you Mozart, and then there are girls who have never read music in their life but they just love to sing.”

Ureña said that when the group is smaller than usual, like it is now, singers frequently have to change parts. 

According to Ureña, women's choral music is written for four parts — in order from highest to lowest, they are soprano one, soprano two, alto one and alto two. The group evaluates each singer's range to determine which parts they will be able to sing. As the group grows or shrinks, the choir adapts to the changes by moving singers to different parts.

Having a smaller group also means that they tend to accept more new members. Ureña said that at the last audition they accepted four of the five singers who auditioned. A smaller sized group never hinders the group from singing the music they want to sing, but they would like to build its numbers back up. 

She said the choir is tightly knit with a number of group traditions. Their mascot is the cow, which they took on as a sign of empowerment. Many years ago, a rival choral group called them cows and instead of accepting the insult, the group turned it into their mascot.

“We took something that somebody meant to hurt us and we made it into something that empowers us,” Ureña said. “So instead of being upset about it, we were like, 'Fine, you wanna call me a cow, we'll be a cow.'”

The group uses cows in its concert programs and emails. In the group's family tree, which dates back 10 years, each member represented as a cow, and the lineage is identified with grandcows, great-grandcows and calves.

“It's kind of our thing where we're gonna take anything that comes in our way and we're going to make it positive for us. You can't hurt us because we'll turn it into something better. Our whole group is about women supporting women and loving music,” Ureña said. 

Max Marcus is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.

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