Get to Know 'From Behind Closed Doors' Mezzo-Soprano Sarah Ponder - Chicago a cappella

What makes CAC different from other groups that you sing with?

Some of my closest relationships have grown out of CAC! We genuinely have such a great time together – whether laughing about random jokes or holding each other through heartbreak – CAC is a family and we love being with each other! 

CAC requires more vocal flexibility than almost any other group. We perform such a wide variety of repertoire (from renaissance to pop charts to Americana to music from around the globe) that each singer is really challenged to grow in technique and artistry to perform each program. 

Singing with CAC also requires practicing trust. Unlike most groups, we have a music director in rehearsals but actually perform without one. It’s an interesting intersection between being self-led and directed. We often practice handing off that sense of leadership. It feels like a bit of a dance sometimes.

From a logistical standpoint there are so many details to work out (who is showing a particular cutoff or leading a section, what voices need to be most prominent, etc.) in addition to the personal responsibilities of preparing the music and bringing your own  “best voice” – I wouldn’t be the musician I am today without it!

Was there ever a time when you got to do something with CAC you always wanted to do but ever had?

I absolutely love classical singing – opera, oratorio, and classical choral work – but I came to singing through vocal jazz. Before CAC, singing styles other than classical used to feel like a guilty pleasure! Through my decade plus with CAC, my technique has grown and I understand more fully how to move between the different genres. I understand my own instrument better now.

I actually loved doing the History of Rock and Soul concerts – I always wanted to feel connected to music that really started a movement and through the process, I found new artists that I might never have discovered. Actually…the more I start thinking about all of the amazing “firsts” through CAC, I can’t stop smiling. So many good memories!

What piece are you really looking forward to performing on the “From Behind Closed Doors” program?

As I’m writing this, we’ve had one rehearsal for the “From Behind Closed Doors” program. Before rehearsals start, most of my energy is spent making sure I’m prepared – we’re all responsible for learning our own pitches/rhythms/etc. Without fail, after the first rehearsal actually hearing everything together, I am flooded with curiosity and a need to delve further into the music.

One favorite right now is Sarai Hillman’s commission “Peace”. The dissonance and sweet resolution in the harmony remind me of moving through this world with a sense of equanimity. In the sharpest and most painful times, there’s always something beautiful too. They exist together. 

What has been your experience in working with the HerVoice composers?

It has been so wonderful to work with the HerVoice composers! It is incredibly inspiring to see how everyone involved genuinely loves creating these beautiful and poignant works together. The joy surrounding the collaborative process is contagious and I find myself falling more in love with music and singing through the preparation. Each composer crafted these touching pieces and it was an honor to give feedback in the workshop setting and to see how the works then evolved.

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