We have a treat in store for amateur choral singers: On six Saturdays beginning November, Amateur Music Network will host Singing Saturdays with Ragnar Bohlin, featuring music by Mozart, Bach, Brahms, and Handel, as well as holiday favorites. One singer who’ll be eagerly participating is soprano Abigail Millikan-States of Corte Madera, California, who told us: “Choral singing is my greatest passion, and it’s truly an honor as an amateur singer to have the opportunity to work with Ragnar.” We asked Abigail to tell us more about singing on- and offline.
Before COVID, where did you sing?
I’ve sung and danced all my life. I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I sang with a Balkan folk group. I also did international folk dancing and Appalachian clogging, which really enhanced my singing. When you dance those complicated rhythms you understand them in your bones.
I typically have sung with seven choirs over the course of a year, and participated in many singing workshops. I’ve toured extensively, most recently with Marin Oratorio, and the Villa Sinfonia orchestra in 2017 to sing at St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest and in the Esterházy Palace outside Vienna, as well as many other places—including the cemetery in Vienna! With a smaller Marin Oratorio group, I’ve sung the National Anthem before four San Francisco Giants games!
How have you kept up with your singing practice since the shutdown?
I joined two English choirs on Zoom: Gareth Malone’s Great British Home Chorus and the Sofa Singers under James Sills. Both of these choirs connected singers from all over the world, which is thrilling in its own right. I also participated in Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6: Sing Gently, which I enjoyed very much.
Then in August I joined two online choirs at the College of Marin under the direction of Boyd Jarrell: Marin Oratorio and Chamber Singers, both of which have been favorites of mine for many years. I’ve also been participating in many Zoom and YouTube workshops with the San Francisco Choral Society and San Francisco Bach Choir.
Have you sung under Ragnar Bohlin in the past?
Yes! In 2011, when AMN founder Lolly Lewis was working for the San Francisco Symphony, she led the Community of Music Makers program for adult amateur musicians, and I took part in most of the choral workshops. I was elated to get in-person vocal instruction from Ragnar. He’s a true master. I’m deeply grateful that AMN is allowing this opportunity again, albeit online. Ragnar has a delightfully expressive way of conveying the nuances of vocal rehearsal and performance, and he has an extensive knowledge of classical composers, their languages and their repertoire. And he understands how body mechanics work with a singer’s voice.
Any tips for getting the most out of an online singing workshop?
Online workshops let us hone our skills in a different way, because there’s no one to hear us and no one to rely on or blend with. I find it useful to record the workshops on my iPhone and play them back later. From Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir practice I learned how to record myself and upload it into a mass video. Great fun! Another fun thing about online workshops: I can watch the faces of the other singers, which I never get to do when we’re singing together live.
Where else are you singing now?
I sing every day—sometimes in my car, where I keep a lot of CDs, and sometimes while I walk. I walk four or five miles every day and sing while I walk. It’s great for respiratory endurance. I walk along a salt marsh here in Marin County—there’s rarely anyone else around to hear me.
Top image: A screenshot of Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6.