A native of Columbus, Neb., Sarah Ponder joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus in 2007. She also sings with local ensembles such as the William Ferris Chorale and Chicago a cappella. Her education includes a master of music and a certificate program in voice performance from Northwestern University and a bachelor of fine arts in voice performance from the University of Nebraska.
What work(s) this season are you are most looking forward to performing?
Schubert’s Mass in E-flat Major (March 22-24), because I fell in love with Schubert as an undergrad. I turned pages for our faculty piano trio and was exposed to some of his amazing chamber music. (Although I did get nervous remembering exactly how many of the repeats were being played in each performance!) Even though his music can sometimes be long-winded, as Stravinsky once quipped, “So what if I doze off occasionally when listening to Schubert, as long as I always find myself in Paradise when I wake up?”
I also love the Ravel Daphnis and Chloe (April 5-7 and 10). French composers are often so great for lyric mezzo voices! One of my first song sets I learned was Trois Chansons by Ravel (there is a choral arrangement in addition to the solo version), and I was so taken with the descriptive text and sparse accompaniment. It was lush and transparent at the same time and somehow mysterious — a bit ambitious for my undergrad years, but I learned so much in studying and performing them.
Offstage, I like to:
I love reading (lots of history, fiction, vocal technique), practicing (yes, I actually like practicing!) yoga, riding motorcycles, Netflix, podcasts, makeup and cooking. Even more than cooking, I love eating.
One of my favorite quotes is:
“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” by Henry David Thoreau. I think that trying to truly understand and find empathy for one another (from your closest family and friends to strangers) is one of life’s greatest challenges. It’s hard to wade through our own thoughts and judgments and truly hear another person and put ourselves in his or her shoes. Those fleeting moments you can share through that understanding are so powerful — a “miracle” is the best description!
What is your most memorable Chicago Symphony Chorus performance or experience?
I also work with the Negaunee Music Institute on various outreach projects, such as the Lullaby Project. For two years, as part of Maestro Muti’s commitment to sharing music with underserved communities, I performed with Maestro in special concerts at IYC-Warrenville for the young women in juvenile detention. The ladies who I had been working with through our outreach program were so open to hearing classical music and excited to meet Maestro Muti — they felt so honored and special. I felt honored to not only share my passion with them, but to spend time coaching with such a great musician. Singing with Yo-Yo Ma this past June at St. Sabina’s Church [in the Concert for Peace] was also a powerful, almost transformative experience.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to learn more about classical music?
Sometimes it’s great to come to a performance and be surprised, but more often you will find a greater appreciation for a piece if you have a deeper understanding of it. Knowing the context, storyline, the translation — having listened to the best “hooks” before you come to hear it live almost always increases your enjoyment. Thanks to the internet, there are so many great resources available. It’s also great to remember that the performance doesn’t exist without an audience; the energy, emotional response, attention and openness of the listener helps to create the art, too!
©Todd Rosenberg Photography