Henkaa fiercely supports groups of women by not only equipping them with lifelong pieces that grow with them, but through ongoing sponsorship and development opportunities - one of these special groups is Oriana Women’s Choir. We’re thrilled to have embarked on this influential journey with them almost 3 years ago, and are excited to feature one of their core members!
We’ve all experienced times where we wished there were just a few more hours in a day. Sometimes 24 hours doesn’t seem nearly enough to accomplish all we’ve set out to do, so when we see a fellow #HenkaaBossBabe do it all and do it well, we’re inspired! Which brings us to today’s Inspiring Women spotlight, Julia Lee of Oriana Women’s Choir.
Hi Julia! We’d love to get to know you better. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I think of myself as being fairly ordinary. Like many people in Toronto I’m an immigrant. My birth family is far away so my network of friends and colleagues here is very important to me. Life is full, but I try to concentrate on what’s important. I worked more-or-less full time as a science editor for many years, but I’ve since switched careers and I now run a textile business: Provenance Yarns. I’m a professional spinner, creating custom yarns, knitted textiles and I also teach spinning. Every day I get to play with colored fluff! I also try to promote the production and use of local fibers such as wool, alpaca, mohair, and angora. Physical objects aren’t a high priority for me; peace, fulfillment, health, community, family, and friends are.
How did your journey start with Oriana Women’s Choir and why did you choose to join?
I joined ORIANA in about 1997, after finding a listing for them online. I had done some musical theatre before moving to Toronto, and then sung in a couple of community choirs here. I was looking for a choir that would challenge me, introduce me to more music and more people. I was quite overwhelmed when I first joined ORIANA, and sang very quietly at the back for a while. The music was unfamiliar and difficult! Over the years I have learned more about choral technique, made some good friends, and gained confidence. But I know that there’s still a lot to learn and I’m still blown away by the quality of the voices in this choir.
We love celebrating sisterhood! There are many members in Oriana. How does being a part of the choir empower you and what is it like being a part of such a large group of women?
It’s an honour to sing with these fabulous women. When we’re all focused and bringing everything to our performance, the feeling of power and harmony surrounding you is just amazing. As well as singing with the choir, I joined the Board and have served as Secretary, Chair, and other several other roles. I am constantly challenged to learn new skills, solve problems, and to look at things in different ways. It’s a very supportive group. We all do what we can to help the choir run smoothly and we rely on each other to help out when needed – from extra rehearsal time together to solving technical or administrative challenges. ORIANA has taught me so much and I am very grateful to be part of this group.
With rehearsals, performances, life and beyond, how do you manage to balance everything and keep yourself grounded?
It’s easier now that my children are grown and we’re no longer paying down a mortgage! I have always set priorities and try to allow the less important things to slide without too much guilt. I try to be efficient and am a good multitasker. One of my priorities is my personal health and well-being. I make sure that I spend time outside every day, exercise most days, and enjoy good home-cooked food. These things help me feel good about myself, which makes it easier to tackle everything else with confidence. Having the support of my family and a strong network of friends is invaluable. Producing beautiful things, whether it’s a great concert with ORIANA or a successful commissioned textile piece, is the icing on the cake! I know that I am extremely fortunate to be living this life, and I try to give back to make life a little better for other people. That makes me feel good too.
What does it take to be a chorister and do you have any advice for someone new to the “choir world” wanting to pursue singing long term?
It really depends what kind of choir you join. There are many community choirs that welcome all comers and make wonderful, joyful music together. Others require some musical background and expect choristers to learn the music on their own. In ORIANA, for example, all the singers are auditioned and can read music. We have all sung in choirs before, so we come with a certain level of skill and experience. To thrive and contribute to the choir, we have to spend time working on our parts outside of the weekly rehearsals. The expectation is that you attend all the rehearsals leading up to each concert, as well as several retreat days each year. At rehearsals we are very focused, constantly working on good singing technique as well as learning the notes. It’s a real brain work-out and a considerable time commitment. If you love singing with others and you have the time and willingness to work on the repertoire, then I’d highly recommend joining a choir. Get in touch with ORIANA!
How did Henkaa change your closet?
I have two Henkaa dresses and a few accessory pieces in my closet. I don’t go out to formal events often, so I don’t need a lot of “dressy” clothes. My Calla Midi Convertible Dress in Charcoal Grey is extremely flexible and I always feel good wearing it. It can go from daytime meetings to evening events very easily, and is so simple and classic that I can add a wide variety of accessories to make it look completely different. It fits with my philosophy of not having stuff you don’t need! My ORIANA performance outfit is the Night Black Sakura Maxi Dress, and I love wearing it for concerts, usually with a Ruby Red Convertible Bandeau. It’s very packable when heading out to a performance: just add black shoes and a necklace and I’m good to go!
Oriana has been with Henkaa for 2 years now (going on 3!). Why did the choir choose Henkaa and why should other choirs use our ConvertiStyle™ dresses for their performances?
In 2014 ORIANA chose Henkaa’s Night Black Sakura Maxi Dress as our performance outfit, accented with a variety of ruby red accessories. We wanted performance wear that would look and feel good on women of a wide variety of ages, sizes, and personal styles. Our previous dresses were starting to get dated and younger choir members didn’t find them attractive. So we started looking for possibilities and were impressed by the options offered by Henkaa’s line. We also liked the idea of partnering with a Canadian company led by a female entrepreneur. We were delighted to work out a sponsorship agreement with Henkaa. Since our first big order of Sakura dresses, we have added the Iris Convertible Dress as another option to accommodate singers who prefer to have their arms covered. The fabric is the same as the Sakura dress, so they work side-by-side very nicely. Partnering with Henkaa has been a great decision, we love the dresses and the flexibility they allow us. They are even adaptable to the seasons and temperatures of concert halls. I generally feel quite warm when performing, so I wear my dress in a style that allows me to stay cool. When we performed at Roy Thomson Hall with TSO in September 2016, we had to sit in the choir stalls while waiting to sing. It was quite chilly so during the intermission I re-wrapped my dress to cover my shoulders and it kept me warmer for the second half!
Other choirs might consider Henkaa dresses if, like us, they are looking to meet the needs of many people who all have their own ideas and opinions!