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Arts & Culture

Gender Equity Through Singing with Mirabai Ensemble

Courtesy MSU College of Music
Dr. Sandra Snow in rehearsal with Mirabai

Last August, some MSU graduates assembled for a concert focusing on women-centric music and poetry. The group calls themselves MIrabai and today, International Women's Day, their Ecstatic Songs is released. WKAR's Jamie Paisley spoke to Dr. Sandra Snow about the project.

[Music from Jocelyn Hagen's Moon Goddess]

Sandra Snow: So, the idea actually was born when I heard former [MSU] President Simon at a State of the University Address and one of the things that she pointed out was that our relationship with out alumni should be more than just seeking donations to support the university, but actually to capitalize on the intellectual capital that they bring to the table, so I thought this would be a fantastic way to accomplish that particular goal and then also to deal with this long-standing need to equalize the work of women in the field of choral music.

JP: And then the repertoire. tell me about that process of the chemistry.

SS: That's the heart of the whole project. All of it is shaped around the three movements of a work called Ecstatic Songs by David Brunner, and the music features the poetry of Mirabai, who happens to be the namesake of the ensemble

JP: A 16th century poetess.

SS: Right, and also a woman who really struggled in her family and her community because how she wanted to live her life was not the way the family intended, so she had overcome a lot of struggle.

JP: "'Don't see him again.'" [Taken from Mirabai's poem 'All I Was Doing Was Breathing']

SS: Exactly. 'Don't ever see him again.' So we decided that that would be the namesake for the ensemble just referencing the tenacity that women can have. The ability to power through and persevere and then the music around that just evolved as I thought about how we'd want to showcase either the music by women composers or texts that reflect women's experiences.

[Music from David Brunner's Ecstatic Songs]

JP: We're speaking with Dr. Sandra Snow, director of the ensemble Mirabai, women singers and all MSU graduates and you talked about how the origins of this came from former President of MSU Simon and her initiative about bringing alumni to do more than just financial contributions, but in the wake of all the events that happened involving MSU and the Nassar trial and all of the exploration, does that change the overall goals of Mirabai as an ensemble as you move forward?

SS: My view is that if we can come out of this established as, sort of leaders in how we're going to go forward. In other words, it's not enough just to make the situation better and the policies better. But we have to actually be the ones to say this is what it looks like when a university gets it right. And, yes, I think this ensemble can be a part of what that looks like. We've initiated Mirabai Women Young Scholars Program. We're going to bring eight high school and early college women to [the] MSU campus this summer. We're going to pair them with a Mirabai mentor member and they're going to have the opportunity to interact and study music for a full week with these members.

[Music from Abbie Betinis' A Blessing of Cranes]

Dr. Sandra Snow is the director of Mirabai, whose album Ecstatic Songs is released today, International Women's Day, via their website, as well as through streaming sites such as Spotify and iTunes.

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