The sisterhood of WOSWE

The WOSWE girls ad for their Afternoon With WOSWE performance.

Photo by Erin Stier

The WOSWE girls’ ad for their Afternoon With WOSWE performance.

Emily Book

It’s 1:15 pm during 5th hour at the south building of West Ottawa High School. While in the middle of a math lesson, Instructor Tami Mcnitt’s 5th hour hears echoing voices singing in the stairwell next to their classroom. Pretty harmonies and high notes sung by soprano singers are loudly audible, interrupting the math lesson. These voices are no choir other than West Ottawa Select Women’s Ensemble (WOSWE) having an impromptu singing session in the stairwell. Randomly going to a stairwell and singing in it to hear the pretty echoes during class is only one of the many things that make WOSWE stand out.

   Some people are unaware that WOSWE is an auditioned ensemble, someone can’t become a member without auditioning and being selected first (hence SELECT Women’s Ensemble). 

  Director of WOSWE, Erin Stier said, “There always seems to be this group of individuals that really have the drive for something extra. I think it takes a certain something to audition for an ensemble or a special group that is not the same as just joining something where everyone comes.” Stier is correct. Taking the big step to audition certainly proves that there is a certain drive in WOSWE that just feels different from other choirs. 

   Frosh. Arisella Rios said, “My experience in WOSWE that is different from other choirs is that everyone puts in the same amount of effort.” This choir is not an “easy A,” and that is made known before the WOSWE audition. Everyone in WOSWE puts the same effort into music, learning, and bonding every day. I have personally been in choir classes where people have mentioned that they are just there for the “easy A.” There is definitely no one like that in WOSWE, specifically because this choir is not “easy.”

   Although this class may not be easy, it’s about so much more than just learning and performing music; it is all about bonding first. We play Just Dance every Monday, we meditate, we talk in small groups, and we share our lives with each other.

   Rios said, “What I enjoy about good things is that we can share a happy or a crappy which is nice that Ms. Stier acknowledges that we might not be having a good day and allows us to share with the class. What I also enjoy about good things is everyone listens and sometimes will even give advice on what to do. Taking 5-10 minutes to listen to each other gives us a stronger bond in WOSWE.” 

   Almost every day in WOSWE at the beginning of class we have the option of sharing out a happy or crappy part of our life recently. This special time taken out of class allows for a constant, consistent support system that everyone can count on. This time is extra special because many people, always including Ms. Stier, will give feedback to happy parts of our life that we share or give advice to crappy parts of our lives that feel overwhelming. 

   Stier said, “Nothing really matters more than the environment that we create together. We could learn the hardest piece of music and sing it beautifully, but it would probably lack soul because we weren’t connected.” The bonding that we do in WOSWE of course is for personal benefits, but it also significantly helps our performance in extraordinary ways. 

   Taking time to recognize how someone’s life is currently going means a whole lot more than one would think. Soph. Tana Haveman said, “The moment I step into the choir room, a weight is lifted off my shoulders and even though we’re working really hard, it’s still fun and de-stressing.” Haveman is spot on with her statement and speaks for every member of WOSWE, including myself.

   As I walk into the choir room, I find myself feeling accepted, at peace, and relieved of stress. As I walk to my seat, I see hundreds of pictures of choir students past and present, some pictures including myself; I am reminded of memories. As I keep walking, I see an LGBTQIA+ flag and a Black Lives Matter flag, this reminds me daily that everyone is accepted here. Just the choir room itself is a place of peace. Being in this environment and bonding daily greatly helps our music in every way possible. 

   One thing in particular that signifies the sisterhood of WOSWE is the WOSWE shelf. 

   “The WOSWE shelf is a mixture of a whole bunch of random objects for one. As I look across the room, I see a skeletal unicorn, framed poetry, very beautiful artwork, I see a life vest (that’s a WOSWE story). It’s supposed to be, how does it define the environment, the space, the music, the humans, just the culture of the ensemble. The shelf defines the heart of WOSWE and who we are as a choir family,” Stier said. 

   Stier couldn’t have defined the shelf better. As the seven-foot-tall shelf displays in front of the classroom, it gives a daily reminder to WOSWE members that we are not just a choir, we are a proud family.

   One of the most remarkable parts about WOSWE is that this choir is extremely passionate. Madilynn Reynolds is a first-year member of WOSWE, and new to West Ottawa this year. Reynolds said, “My counselor suggesting WOSWE to me on my first day was just the start of me falling in love with music again. Being a part of WOSWE brought back that passion for me, something I thought I’d never regain.” WOSWE is full of passion. That passion is seen through our songs, through our relationships with each other, through everything we do. 

   “Some of my favorite memories of WOSWE are when somebody brings something up because the text of the music made them feel a certain way, and then we’re done rehearsing and we just talk about what that person brought up. I’m not always the one leading that, and I just love that about an ensemble like WOSWE,” Stier said. 

   WOSWE is very self-driven, we do not need constant structure. To display this characteristic of WOSWE, whenever Ms. Stier is gone for a day, warm-ups are student-led with the help of Mrs. Florip, the choir accompanist. 

   WOSWE is a passionate, soulful, accepting, self-driven, dysfunctional family, and a life-lasting sisterhood. With the help of Stier and Florip, and each other, WOSWE is not a performing art, but a piece of art in itself.