Sacramental Winers gather for 20th anniversary, celebrate “women with wings”
By Casey Cep ’13 M.Div.
Fourteen female voices heralded the coming of “a nation of women with wings” during this year’s Convocation and Reunions. Singing “River of Birds,” the Sacramental Winers celebrated 20 years of all-female a cappella at Yale Divinity School with a concert in Marquand Chapel.
That concert—along with an engaging lunchtime panel on music, sacred space, and finding a voice—allowed dozens of former Winers, supporters, and current students to mark an important anniversary for a group that started casually when a few women wanted to sing a talent show but did not want to sing alone. The anniversary celebration marked the first time ever that a Winers reunion was an official part of Convocation.
Susan Olson ’93 M.Div., one of the founding members and currently director of career counseling at YDS, said at the panel discussion, “I was a music major used to formality, but the Sacramental Winers have always been about music for the sake of music, not perfection.”
Indeed, many of the women who attended the panel and sang in the reunion concert told stories of how much the group had meant to them socially and spiritually and how different it had been from any other singing experience in their past.
When the Sacramental Winers gather weekly in Marquand Chapel for rehearsal, they pray and sing, and then have wine and cheese together. Angela Batie Carlin '07 M.Div., the lead organizer of the reunion, reflected on those rehearsals and called them “a space where it felt safe to sit with the things challenging us spiritually, personally, and theologically.”
Sacramental Winers was the first all-female singing group she had ever joined. “We didn’t have a designated leader, so we led collaboratively,” Carling said. “Everyone’s voice got heard and everyone had the chance to lead.” She described how many Winers contacted her with stories and memories to be shared at the reunion, and she assured those who could not attend this year, “It’s okay—we’ll see you at the 30th!”
The layering of all those voices was tangible, Carlin said as she gathered music for the concert, finally putting faces and identities to the names scribbled on song sheets and scrawled on margins. No surprise, then, that she opened the concert by acknowledging how even though many Winers have “never met face-to-face, [they’re] joined forever by the power of music.”
Fourteen Winers with class years ranging from 1985 to 2010 came together in Marquand Chapel on Tuesday night of Convocation for the anniversary concert. An audience of about 75 enjoyed the music, but also the memories that the Sacramental Winers shared from their time at the Divinity School.
The unusual range of the group’s repertoire—pop, sacred, spiritual, and world music—was on full display when they sang eight songs that included “Wanting Memories” by Sweet Honey in the Rock, Bobby McFerrin’s feminine version of the 23rd Psalm, and an Appalachian folksong, “Father Adieu.” Four of the six founding members even performed Christy Moore’s “The Computer Song,” the number that birthed the group when the original six needed something to perform together in a talent show.
Over the last 20 years, the Winers have gathered to sing at ordinations, weddings, funerals, worship services, and parties—in hospital oncology units, women’s prisons, and retirement homes. At their concerts they take a freewill offering for a charity of their choice, and the anniversary concert was no exception: the night ended with an offering to benefit the YDS Women’s Scholarship Fund, an offering to help ensure many future generations of Sacramental Winers.