The Manhattan Girls Chorus (or MCG) has performed at Carnegie Hall multiple times. They have sung alongside the American Symphony Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. They have learned pieces in Hebrew, Yiddish, Italian, German, and Bavarian. The credentials of the MCG would be impressive for any young choir. But the MCG is more than a just a choir. It is a community.
The MGC brings together aspiring singers in grades five through 12. The singers hail from different ethnicities, different religions, and different socioeconomic backgrounds. During rehearsals, the girls don’t just practice music; they talk to one another about their struggles, their concerns, and their dreams.
“Every rehearsal, we talk about life,” artistic director Michelle Oesterle told Women in the World. “[The girls] have developed such a sense of sisterhood that they know they can trust each other. We’ve talked about everything this year: teen suicide, anorexia, bulimia, cutting, depression.”
The MCG was the featured performance at the Women in the World Summit on April 23rd. There, the chorus performed a segment from I Am, a musical work, set to music composed by David Sisco, comprised of the girls’ own words. During an MCG retreat, the singers were asked to answer 20 questions about themselves. I Am is a pastiche of their answers:
They say I’m fat. That I’m too tall. They spread rumors.
They turned my friends against me.
Sometimes I don’t understand.
I’m done trying.
Oesterle believes that fostering honesty and communication among her pupils is crucial to both their singing and their psyche.
“I feel to perform, you need to be a bit vulnerable, and be able to bring your whole self to the music, and know that you’re surrounded by people who are supporting you,” she explained. “You have to be brave to be yourself and open your soul. When these girls sing, you can see who they are inside. They feel safe.”