Continuing The Legacy Of Courage, Hope and Joy

It performs as a full choir just twice a year, so now would be a great time to take in the melodic voices of the Women’s Choral Society.

Under the direction of Melissa Brunkan, the choir’s 18th conductor overall and third woman to hold the position since the organization’s first performance in 1935, the 65-strong WCS on Jan. 22 takes on the works of Ron Kean, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Vivaldi in Courage, Hope, Joy — Women’s Choral Society Winter Concert 2023.

Kean’s four-movement American Mass, which opens the concert, combines the formality of traditional Latin choral music with the enthusiasm of American gospel music.

From there, University of Oregon School of Music and Dance students Grace Miller and Emma Jones — who are this year’s recipients of the WCS Densmore Scholarship Fund — take center stage with arias. Miller will sing “Vedrai Carino” from Don Giovanni, and Jones sings “Sposa Son Disprezzata”  from Bajazet.

As is its custom, the WCS program is eclectic and fun. Besides the formal fare, there are contemporary works by the likes of Dolly Parton (“Light of a Clear Blue Morning”), American folk and blues singer Lead Belly (“Bring Me Little Water, Silvy”).

Also featured are works by Consuelo Velazquez and Jim Papoulis as well as compositions from rising composers May Erlewine and Elaine Hagensberg.  

WCS got its start when Maud Densmore was approached in 1934 with the idea of establishing a women’s choir in Eugene. Densmore took the idea to patrons at Mu Phi Epsilon, a co-ed international professional music fraternity, which said yes to funding the project.

With funds secured, more than 300 women applied for the choir, and 110 were accepted. They gathered on April 18, 1935, at the UO for the very first concert. It cleared $161.20, according to the WCS website. Densmore was the pianist who accompanied the choir. For the past 20 years, the pianist for WCS has been Vicki Brabham, a staple of Eugene’s music scene.

Throughout the year, a smaller ensemble of WCS — the 14-member traveling company called Grace Notes — reaches out to the community, as the WCS website notes, as “ambassadors of musical fun,” going to retirement and long-term care facilities as well as for community groups. Brabham is the director and accompanist.

Courage, Hope, Joy — Women’s Choral Society Winter Concert 2023 is 3 pm Sunday, Jan. 22, at Beall Concert Hall at the University of Oregon. $8-$16. Proceeds go to the Densmore Scholarship Fund for UO music students. More information about the Women’s Choral Society is at