[Diary of an Expat Bride] Voices united

May 13, 2011, Friday/ 16:15:00/ ELLE LOFTIS

On Tuesday, May 17 the İstanbul International Chamber Choir (IICC) will perform a concert at 7:30 p.m. to benefit the Don Bosco Refugee School.

This wonderful choir was established in the summer of 2009 by three Dutch ladies who recruited expats from around the globe to fill its ranks. Professional opera soprano Anderske Kasperma has directed the choir in several performances at churches, consulates and private gatherings. I first met Anderske in 2008 when she first moved to İstanbul. She dreamed of one day starting a women’s choir and was able to make it a reality with Mariette Stijnen and Fleur van Bree. While Anderske directs and chooses repertoire, Fleur and Mariette deal with organizing concerts, finances and rehearsals.

Personally, I was very happy this choir was created. Although I am not a professional singer, I have a strong musical background and attended a conservatory for two years majoring in flute performance and music education. While I changed paths, my love of music remained. When I first moved to İstanbul from my home in Michigan eight years ago, I loved the exposure to a different form of music. Turkish music contained a range that fascinated me. As I learned Turkish, I tried to sing some popular songs with my friends. While I could get the words, I couldn’t get the notes. My Western-trained ear struggled to find an Eastern voice. Similarly, my Turkish friends always sounded a bit off when singing Western music. Ever heard “Happy Birthday” sung in Turkish? It always comes across as sounding a bit sharp or flat to my ear. The Turkish scale contains a lot of quarter and eighth tones that Western scales lack. I missed singing in a familiar key with my musical peers in church, where most Westerners experience traditional forms of music. I had looked into joining a choir in İstanbul, but struggled to find one that would match my schedule. At the time I was pregnant, and worried that a choir might not accept me if I was unable to commit fully to the group. When Anderske, Fleur and Mariette started the İstanbul International Chamber Choir, I was relieved and quite excited to join. I needed to join a group that was serious about performing, yet had a flexible schedule. The İstanbul International Chamber Choir was a perfect match.

Rehearsals are held Wednesday evenings from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the İstanbul International Community School in Rumeli Hisarı. Women from Japan, South Africa, Holland, Ukraine, England, America, Switzerland, Turkey, France, Germany and Australia make up the diverse group. Joining is pretty easy. Potential members are given a set of singing exercises with Anderske, who checks to make sure you have a decent ear and can read basic music. Used to rigorous, competitive auditions, this felt fun to me and totally relaxed. Those who make it in are then assigned to either the soprano, mezzo soprano or alto sections. With members from all over the globe, the repertoire is chosen to reflect the group’s diversity. Songs are sung in Latin, English, French, German, Dutch, Russian and Hebrew to list a few. Inevitable disagreements about pronunciation pop up once in awhile, especially amongst the different English speakers. How things are pronounced in London differ with how they are sung in New York. The results are pretty funny, and leave the group laughing. I personally love singing Christmas songs, especially after my move to Turkey. However, these songs are sung slightly different in each country. Finding middle ground was a challenging yet fun adventure. For the spring concert classical pieces by Mozart are mixed with the more recent Abba hits like “Mamma Mia.” There is something for everyone in the repertoire, and Anderske is always open to suggestions and requests from members.

Going through a difficult pregnancy, Wednesday nights became a therapeutic addition to my week. There I could sing my heart out, in a style I was familiar with. Singing provided me a release for the homesickness and loneliness I felt when pregnant. The diverse age range of the women was also liberating, with women from ages 15 to 60 participating. Many of the older women had also given birth in Turkey and had a lot of helpful advice and sympathy for my similar expat experience. They offered lots of words of friendly advice and encouragement that gave me hope throughout the week. This continued even after my son, Eren, was born, and I continued to attend Wednesday night rehearsals. Thankfully the ladies have been patient and understanding with my (at times) erratic attendance, understanding how difficult it can be to find childcare every week. My husband, Can, understands how important Wednesday nights are for me and encourages my musical outlet. Choir provides a relief and a sanctuary away from the stresses of motherhood and expat life. Wednesday nights also provide me with a connection of familiarity, the notes on the page representing a past I still proudly carry with me. Many of those notes remind me of my high school and conservatory days, when I spent hours studying sheet music and listening to CDs. Music terminology is generally the same in all languages and I find comfort hearing the familiar expressions.

Married to a Turkish man and living in Turkey, I enjoyed the immersion into Turkish culture and the arts. However, I still needed to belong to an expat group of women who shared an understanding of Western music. It’s funny what I missed when I moved to Turkey. I never thought that music would top the list, but it did. Maybe it was something I took for granted when I went to church every Sunday. Even if I didn’t sing during the week I was guaranteed a musical outlet at church. When I moved to Turkey I lacked that release. I tried to start playing flute again, but longed to be in a band or with a couple of other musicians. I had sung in choirs before, and looked forward to expanding my vocal capabilities with the IICC.

Each week members pay TL 15 each to cover the cost of music, a concert accompanist and other miscellaneous expenses. There is a break for tea and coffee and an opportunity to socialize. The IICC tries to perform to benefit charity whenever possible. The Christmas 2010 concert was held in the chapel at the British Consulate, with ticket sales helping to pay for the repair of the organ damaged in the 2003 bombing. The spring concert sales will benefit the Don Bosco Refugee School, which primarily helps Iraqi refugees. One refugee in particular needs help for cancer treatments and some of the donations will go to assist in his care. Tickets are TL 20 and can be purchased at the door. The IICC invites everyone to attend May 17, at 7:30 p.m. The concert will be held at the Notre Dame de Sion Fransiz Lisesi, Cumhuriyet Cad. 127, which is located across the street from the Hilton Hotel in Harbiye. Please come and support a great cause and maybe consider joining our choir in the fall of 2011. Rehearsals will start again in September.

Elle Loftis is an expat writer and mom living in İstanbul. For questions or comments, please contact her at [email protected]