Ohio Women’s Ensemble Finds its Voice

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Ohio University is home to a wide range of registered student organizations — cultural, religious, social and more. But few offer class credit, or have had the distinction of doubling in size in just two years.

The Ohio Women’s Ensemble (OWE), formerly known as Women’s Chorale, is OU’s female-only choir — open to women of all majors — that doubles as a class and a student organization, complete with nine executive board members.

When Director and Assistant Professor of Music Education Paul Mayhew started his career at OU in the 2013-2014 academic year, only about 46 women participated. As of last week, the enrollment hit 107. One factor of the growth can be attributed to having a full-time faculty member direct the group.

Maggie Fahey, a senior who is serving as president for the second year in a row, has been involved in OWE for all four years of her college career, her freshman year being the only one in which Mayhew was not around. Back then, a graduate assistant directed, and the choir got a new director every year or two.

“It was pretty hard to build up (in terms of) members and the quality of music that we’d be singing,” she said of the challenges the system posed. “(Mayhew) has a Ph.D. in music education and wrote his dissertation essentially on the psychology of teaching in the music field. Also, it gave more credibility to our program within the School of Music and around campus to have someone who was a faculty member.”

Maggie Fahey directs the Ohio Women's Ensemble during a rehearsal. (photo provided)
Maggie Fahey directs the Ohio Women’s Ensemble during a rehearsal. (photo provided)

Mayhew said that there used to just be one choral director among the four OU choirs: OWE, Singing Men of Ohio (SMO), University Singers and Choral Union. OWE was likely passed off as an “afterthought,” he said, without a full-time faculty member to help the singers develop a challenging repertoire over time.

“It sounded like a perfect place to walk into. This is year 31 for me in teaching. I taught high school for many years, and I’ve sometimes walked into a new job following somebody who was fantastic,” he said. “When you have to follow somebody who was beloved and doing a great job, that’s intimidating.”

After a few years of challenging themselves with a variety of music selections, the group’s collective skill grew as much as the membership.

“Quality attracts quality,” Mayhew said. “People want to be part of something good.”

Sophomore Alyssa Stegmaier, a non-music major member, recently joined because Mattie d’Erneville, now in her third year in OWE, encouraged her to do so. Stegmaier missed singing in a choir; something she had done since the fourth grade.

“I really missed having that challenge,” she said. “It can be a little intimidating, but that’s what I like. …It’s a great sense of community and it really provides that creativity and that outlet that I need. Not being in (choir) it was like part of me was gone.”

Members of the Ohio Women's Ensemble rehearse in the Glidden Recital Hall. (
Members of the Ohio Women’s Ensemble rehearse in the Glidden Recital Hall. (

This year, the group will represent the School of Music at the Ohio Music Education Association (OMEA) Professional Development Conference in January. It’s the first time since 2005 that an OU choir was selected, and a first for the women’s choir.

Mayhew said he knew last year that OWE was ready to audition, which requires the groups — nearly 150 choirs and bands at a range of education levels — to submit recordings of their work. The panel of judges has no idea whom they’re listening to, so it’s a “blind audition,” Mayhew said.

The women recorded their audition set in spring, and will sing at the conference, scheduled for Jan. 28-30 at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati.

“It’s a huge honor,” Mayhew said. “And it’s also, for us, a huge recruitment tool. (High school) teachers from Sandusky or Delaware or the Cleveland area are going to say, ‘wow, there’s great things happening at OU in choral music, maybe we should send (students) to OU.’ ”

Fahey said that in her high school music department, there was a perception that the mixed choir was the superior one, and the individual men and women’s choirs were viewed as stepping stones to get to an co-ed group. Therefore, joining a women-only choir in college was a new experience.

For more information about the Ohio Women’s Ensemble, visit the group’s Facebook page or get updates via Twitter.