Tipping the Balance and Quilt Songs

Dear Friend of Sacred and Profane,
I’ve have wanted to present a concert of music by women composers for years, and during last year’s #MeToo movement, it became clear that now is the time. Some music organizations, including the Women’s Philharmonic and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, have begun to track the percentage of works by women that are programmed by major symphonies. In the 2016-2017 season, of the top twenty-one orchestras in the United States, fourteen did not program a single piece by a woman, including our own San Francisco Symphony. Of the remaining seven, several programmed only one work by a woman. The choral world is only slightly better. Recent American Choral Directors’ Association (ACDA) conferences have showcased a sorry selection of works by women in their concerts, and even then often pieces for girls choruses. I remember a particular conference session on music by American and Canadian women with a colleague who said to me, “I don’t consider the gender of the composers I program, I just program music that is high quality.” This inability to consider the biases that we hold unawares simply isn’t good enough, and it’s time that we act to equalize the field.

We’ll be performing composer Caroline Mallonee’s  O Lux

We’ll be performing composer Caroline Mallonee’s O Lux

Some organizations are taking note of the disparity. The New York Philharmonic is launching its multi-season Project 19, which celebrates the centennial of the 19th amendment (which gave women the right to vote) with world premieres by nineteen women composers, including Caroline Mallonée, one of the composers featured in our upcoming concerts. My friend Eric Banks, conductor of the Seattle-based choral ensemble The Esoterics, has programmed this season to tip the ratio – of 33 composers the ensemble will feature this year, 20 are women and non-binary gender, and 12 are people of color. (Check out this interesting article by Women's Philharmonic Advocacy about women programmed for 19-20 season)

With S&P, I’ve also worked to program more works by women and people of color this season. While history has given us a plethora of phenomenal choral works by women, I felt it was important to showcase the talents of women working now for our upcoming concert. As an homage to the original woman in music, we will begin our concert with a work by the first composer to whom we can attribute a musical work, Hildegard von Bingen. Following her O virtus Sapientiae, every work is written by a composer living and actively working today.

A few years ago, while roaming the aisles of exhibits at yet another ACDA conference, I spotted a free CD by the Minneapolis-based choral ensemble VocalEssence, conducted by the great Philip Brunelle. Each of the five works on the recording was by a woman who composed a piece inspired by a different quilt. The resulting Quilt Songs cycle features works by the splendid Alice Parker (who’s Wondrous Love we sang in March), Libby Larsen (one of the great American symphonists of our time), Berkeley’s own phenomenal Gabriela Lena Frank, whose music is informed by her Chinese-Peruvian-Lithuanian-Jewish ancestry, Ysäye Barnwell of the internationally acclaimed African American women’s choral ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Carol Barnett, who is well-known for her genre-bending works like Bluegrass Mass. When programming this concert I jumped at the opportunity to program these great pieces. I can’t wait to share them with you at the concerts—definitely a selection of works you’ll want to hear!

The amazing quilts that inspired the composers for the  Quilt Songs  cycle. You won’t want to miss their musical interpretations!

The amazing quilts that inspired the composers for the Quilt Songs cycle. You won’t want to miss their musical interpretations!

In my next letter, I’ll write about the other composers featured in our concert and the exciting works they’ve composed.



Announcing: A Star of the First Magnitude

UNSUNG HEROES: celebrating women in music

“What do I fear? I am a part of infinity,
I am a part of the great power of the universe,
A single world within a million worlds,
A star of the first magnitude
Which is the last to be extinguished.
Triumph to live, Triumph to breathe, Triumph to exist!”

—Edith Södergran

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We're preparing to conclude our 41st season, Elemental Forces with the upcoming concert series A Star of the first Magnitude: Contemporary Women Composers this May. Under the direction of Rebecca Seeman, celebrating her 15th Anniversary as Artistic Director, Sacred and Profane is excited to explore the powerful and exciting repertoire composed by contemporary women that remains underrepresented in traditional concert programming.

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With music that highlights expressive sensibilities, feminist themes, and diverse influences, the program includes works all by living and working female composers, with exception for the original feminist composer: 11th century abbess Hildegard von Bingen. Also on the program is Quilt Songs, a collection of pieces inspired by quilts and composed by Alice Parker, Libby Larsen, Gabriela Lena Frank, Ysäye Barnwell, and Carol Barnett; and works by Tina Andersson, Alissa Firsova, andCaroline Mallonée. The triumphant conclusion is a setting of Edith Södergran’s feminist poem Triumf att finnas till by our much-championed Swedish composer, Karin Rehnqvist. These works showcase the resilient spirit of femininity and celebrate the impressive talent of women in music through the choral arts from the local to international level. 

Stay tuned for more insights into this inspiring program. We hope to see you there!

A Star of the first Magnitude: Contemporary Women Composers

May 19, 2019 at 4PM  
St. Mark's Episcopal Church 
2300 Bancroft Way, Berkeley

May 18, 2019 at 8PM  
St. Mark's Lutheran Church 
1111 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco

The American Landscape: Multimedia 'Melting Pot'

experience the rich traditions of

Traditional Music and Art of the United States

“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear”  – Walt Whitman

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Sacred and Profane is excited to present our upcoming concert series The American Landscape: Traditional Music and Art of the United States, which explores the rich diversity of influences and traditions of American music. In addition to presenting diverse American choral music, Sacred and Profane has invited several local visual artists to add their perspectives to the ‘melting pot,’ with a performance and interdisciplinary experience free to the public, featuring an exhibit on the theme with works by local artists of many disciplines at our Alameda performance on March 10.

These local artists represent a wide range of mediums, and will explore the American geographical, cultural, and social landscape through a variety of lenses. It will be a celebration of the many places and traditions that make American art and music We’re proud to feature works by glass artist Kim Webster, textile artists George-Ann Bowers and Alice Beasley, painter Mi’Chelle Fredrick, mixed-media artists Åke and Leslie Grunditz, and ceramicist Maria Paz; supported by a generous grant from the City of Alameda.

We can’t wait for you to join us! Learn more about the concerts

RSVP for the exhibit is strongly encouraged.

Here’s a sneak peek about our visual artists:

We’re excited to feature our very own George-Ann Bowers, an original member of Sacred and Profane! Did you know she is also a talented textile artist as well as a fantastic member of the alto section?!

My work celebrates the infinite intricacies of the natural world. I am intrigued by the structure of trees, seed pods or rock formations, see weaving patterns in canyon walls, and thrill to the fine lacework of lichens on rock or bark. Color, contrast and texture are important elements in my work, as is dimensionality, whether implied through visual illusion or in actual form. My work captures fleeting moments in nature’s continuing cycle of creation, destruction and change. Growth, decay, eruption, erosion, and the interplay of light and shadow all provide inspiration for my creations.

For woven pieces, I weave in multiple layers using a variety of yarn fibers, and frequently paint on the yarn itself during the weaving process. I also work with woven sculpture and eccentric shaping, and often use clothing shapes as a framework for nature imagery, illustrating a connection and juxtaposition between the natural world and the human body. In non-woven sculpture, I use materials such as wool, flax fiber or sewing thread along with various construction techniques to build forms echoing those I find in the outdoors

Another of our multi-talented members, Kim Webster, makes blown glass that inspires wonder and awe. You can also see her work annually at the Autumn Lights Festival in the gardens of Lake Merritt!

The history of glass as a preserving medium, combined with my love of the garden provides a foundation for my work which celebrates themes of nurture, memory, tradition and fecundity – all with an inevitable touch of whimsy. Working primarily with glass, I use a variety of processes and techniques, each carefully chosen to enhance the communication of the piece: blown glass with screen printed hand-writing and photographs enameled and fired onto the surface of the glass; kiln-formed glass with sand-blasted imagery; and blown glass sculpture lit from within by low voltage lights.

I enjoy writing as well as glass-making and enjoy it best when I can combine story-telling with my art. I like to use hand-writing because it is so personally expressive, and on certain projects have invited people to write down their thoughts and stories so I can preserve them in glass. Through this type of work, I have been delighted to find where the personal meets the universal and how a conversation can be sparked by the recognition of another’s experience.

Coming from a cold climate (Ontario, Canada), I appreciate the preciousness of the natural world, and feel an inclination to preserve those things that are fragile and delicate and full of wonder. Glass is a perfect medium for me, because the material itself speaks to those qualities. Beauty, laughter, stories shared, a moment in the garden: these are some of life’s treasures worthy of being preserved and pondered.

I love language and I love metaphor. I enjoy the capacity of objects to connect me with memories of people, times and places. I have come to glass with a heart full of experience and an excitement at the possibility of expression, revelation and communion.

I feel at home in the garden.  And so, my work in glass seems to combine these things.

Textile artist Alice Beasly’s colorful and textural work will explore social and musical facets of American culture through fabric portraiture.

Fabric is my chosen medium of expression through which I create realistic portraits of people and objects. I find color, light, shadow, line and value in the pattern of ordinary household fabrics. From these I snip small pieces which I arrange and fuse into a figurative composition. As such the work grows from within rather than being applied to the surface of a canvas by paint, pencil or similar drawing tools. When the image is complete, I sew it together with the stitch line constituting the final “drawn” line.

My work has been exhibited in many venues throughout the United States including the American Folk Art Museum in New York and the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum as well as abroad in Madrid, France, Japan and Namibia.   My work has been purchased or commissioned by a number of individuals and public entities including the County of Alameda, Kaiser Hospital, Highland Hospital and the Sunnyvale Medical Facility.

Alameda-based multimedia artist duo Åke and Leslie Grunditz have created a wonderful sculpture with collage and found object techniques to explore the immigrant stories in our American identities.

Åke has a deep interest in the trials and hardships incurred by Swedish immigrants, especially in the early 1900s. Reading the The Emigrants, a series of novels by Wilhelm Moberg, has provided us with a rich source of imagery and understanding of the plight of these people. In the sculpture, A New Life, we have included a matchbox filled with appleseeds, just as Kristina, a character in the novels, brought seeds with her to plant in the new world. 

Also included in this piece are excerpts from a Swedish brochure from 1890 which was used by passengers on the ships bound for the new land in order to familiarize themselves with America and the English language. The map of New York refers to the landing port of many immigrants, and the Native Americans looking on is a reminder that immigration is a complex issue which impacts people in many ways.

Leslie’s great uncle Archie, born in 1878, escaped to America from Russia after suffering persecution and being exiled to Siberia. He landed in New York in 1904. Once in the USA he thrived and became a successful pharmacist and after retirement, a well respected poet. His daughter saved many of his writings and some personal belongings, and we have used these to illustrate the plight of escape. Success is shown in the partial image of his USA Naturalization papers. Archie’s portrait is front and center, along with quotes from his biography and poetry, and pieces from letters he wrote. Both Åke’s Swedish and Archie’s family photos are collaged together to enhance the intimacy of the experience. We are proud of the strength of our immigrant heritage, and hope we have been able to share a sense of what they went through to reach this new land and A New Life.

Another artist with an interesting view of the immigrant experiences that shape American cultural identities is local ceramicist Maria Paz. Investigating these stories in the ceramic tradition allows her to connect to the past in new ways.

Maria Paz (b. 1989, Quilpue, Chile), is an artist based in Oakland, California working primarily in ceramics and painting. Her practice draws from the analysis of material culture practiced in Archeology. By creating illustrative sculptures, Paz aims to archive global events, her path to familial healing, and her personal encounters with migration to the United States. She uses the symbolic imagery of her past and present life to reveal the fabric of her intersectional identity; an homage to the ceramic artifacts left before us. 

Painter Mi’Chelle Fredrick explores the American Landscape through natural landscapes and elements, celebrating the vast beauty of our country’s geography and wildlife.

Mi’Chelle’s creative interests include painting, drawing, photography and writing. She has exhibited extensively throughout the Bay Area and Midwest. Mi’Chelle received Rhythmix Cultural Works’ 2014 Golden Gear Award for outstanding visual artist. She teaches painting and drawing and is co-Director of popUp Gallery in Alameda, California.

‘Painting and drawing have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. All things wild and natural inspire me. Nothing makes me happier than sitting on a boulder in a quiet place drawing a little piece of what I see. I work primarily in graphite and watercolor, sometimes combining the two mediums as in “Where the Buffalo Roamed” and “Tomorrow Totem”.

In my landscapes and wildlife paintings, I strive to convey not just the physical attributes, but the fragile relationships we share with these places and subjects as well. Through my work, I hope to increase awareness of the delicate balance that holds our world together.’

Announcing House Music 2018

S&P Presents NOSE NONSENSE - Annual House Music Concert 2018

"Nothing is capable of being well set to music that is not nonsense." - Joseph Addison

Sacred and Profane knows (nose) nonsense! Our Annual House Music Concert and Fundraiser returns this August. Join us for a relaxed salon-style concert and reception to kick off our 2018-2019 season. We'll be performing in solos and small groups of all different styles and instrumentations, from classical to popular to contemporary, and bringing our friends and family along for the fun. During the regular season S&P sings sacred and secular choral repertoire, but rarely do we get to share our silly sides! Enjoy a lighthearted afternoon with us in a beautiful private residence in Berkeley.  Admission by donation: $25-$40 suggested. Generosity is welcomed, though no one turned away for lack of funds.

Nose Nonsense - House Music 2018
Sunday, August 26 2018, 2:00 PM
2747 Forest Ave, Berkeley (see map)

We'll also be revealing our 2018-19 season, as well as special offers for pre-sale tickets such as discounts and reserved seating to House Music attendees only! You won't want to miss them! 

"Mingle a little folly with your wisdom; a little nonsense now and then is pleasant." - Horace, Carmina



Show your support online and be entered to win free tickets!

If you aren't able to join us in person, you can still support Sacred & Profane in our 41st season fundraising goals. Any donation of $40 or more made now through August 31st will enter you in a drawing to win a pair of tickets to a concert of your choice in our 2018-2019 season! Each increment of $40 earns you another entry. Last year your generous support helped us produce one of our most challenging and successful seasons to date. Help us exceed our goals for our ambitious 2018-2019! Thank you, as always, for being a part of our community, and for your support of Sacred and Profane.

Deutschland Drama

Dear Friend of Sacred & Profane,
In my last letter, I wrote about the works in the first half of Sacred and Profane’s upcoming program of sacred music by German and Austrian master composers – Bach’s motet Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren, BWV 231 and Brahms’ motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Müseligen, Op. 74, No. 1. In this installment, I’ll let you into how I came to choose the other works that we’ll perform.

Hugo Distler

Hugo Distler

I keep a running list of pieces that Sacred and Profane’s singers suggest for us to perform down the line. Several years ago, our baritone (and at one point, alto!) Gabe Fuson asked if we could sing  Hugo Distler’spassion play Totentanz for choir and speakers. This dramatic work alternates aphorisms, sung by mixed choir, with dialogues between Death (spoken in our concert by ACT actor Paul Finocchiaro), and his many victims, who beg for mercy as they go to their fates. This beautiful piece (with wonderfully interesting music for the choir!) is entertaining, but also deeply dark.

When I was a teenager, I worked at art house movie theaters in Palo Alto – maybe some of you remember the New Varsity Theater, the famed theater/restaurant/café and launching place of many of Windham Hill’s jazz and new age recording artists? I worked there! In 1988, we showed the Belgian film The Music Teacher. Although I’d grown up in a house with instrumental chamber music and some vocal music, I’d never really heard anything like this, and I bought and devoured the CD of the music in the film. The piece that moved me the most, and that I credit for igniting my passion for music, was Mahler’s orchestral lied Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, masterfully sung by the Belgian baritone José van Dam. I listened to that CD, mostly that piece, until it was a skipping mess. I’ve never been the same. A few years ago, I heard a German chamber choir perform Clytus Gottwald’s arrangement of Ich bin der Welt for 16-part a cappella choir, and was awe-struck. I couldn’t believe that this rich, complex, and deeply moving piece could be reworked so perfectly for singers. As S&P has become more eager to tackle challenging works of the professional choral repertoire, I knew this piece had to be part of this concert, and part of this exciting season. I hope you are as moved by it as I am, and I hope to be able toconduct it through my sure-to-be tearing-up eyes!

Rebecca Petra Naomi Seeman; Artistic Director, Conductor

Rebecca Petra Naomi Seeman; Artistic Director, Conductor

I hope you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy this remarkable music with us! I’m looking forward to seeing you at one of our concerts!




Hear Director Seeman's recent interview with Jeffrey Freeman about these fabulous pieces on KDFC's State of the Arts!



Music of the Soul: Motets

Dear Friend of Sacred & Profane,
Sacred and Profane is hard at work preparing the second concert of our season celebrating 40 years of bringing beautiful choral music to Bay Area audiences. I wanted this season to focus on our title and our mission – celebrating the sacred and the profane. So while our December concert featured secular music of the winter night sky, our upcoming concert delves into sacred works by the German and Austrian masters Bach, Brahms, and Distler, plus an a cappella arrangement of a semi-sacred work for solo voice and orchestra by Mahler.


Choral conferences are treasure troves of repertoire discovery for me, but it’s pretty rare that a conference will reveal a new work by J.S. Bach! However, a small California conductors’ gathering at a retreat outside of Yosemite in the summer of 2016 did just that. I was introduced to Bach’s motet Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren, BWV 231, which had been sandwiched inside a larger work by Telemann for hundreds of years, and therefore assumed to also be by Telemann. When it was determined to be by Bach himself in the early 1980s, the world was given a new, beautiful motet for mixed choir. I can’t wait to bring you this exciting work that may be as unfamiliar to some of you as it was to me, with cellist Gretchen Claassen playing the continuo.


Brahms was a great lover of the music of the Renaissance and the Baroque, particularly the music of J.S. Bach. As a young man, he was known to spend many hours in the extensive music library of his mentors and friends Robert and Clara Schumann, poring over the complete works of Bach. Later, he kept a treasure trove of music by earlier masters in his own library in Vienna.. The influence of Bach’s music can be heard no place more clearly than in Brahms’ motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Müseligen, Op. 74, No. 1. It is structured just like many Bach cantatas and motets, containing four sections, polyphonic passages, and changes in texture and style, and closing with a homophonic harmonization of a hymn by Luther. I first heard this masterpiece in my graduate studies at the University of Iowa, and fell head-over-heels in love with the work. I brought it into a Sacred and Profane concert in 2012, and I’m excited to share it with you again.
In my next letter to you, I’ll tell you about my relationship to Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen and Hugo Distler’s Totentanz. I hope to see you at our concerts!

Rebecca Petra Naomi Seeman; Artistic Director, Conductor

Rebecca Petra Naomi Seeman; Artistic Director, Conductor





Songs of Stars & Northern Lights

Dear Friend of Sacred & Profane,
What a wonderful experience to sing our secular wintertime concert of music about the evening, darkness, the night sky, and the northern lights last Saturday in Alameda! We can’t wait to present the concert this weekend – Saturday night in Berkeley and Sunday afternoon in San Francisco.


In my last letter, I talked about the first half of our program, and the focus on evening and solitude. The second half of our concert delves into the starry night and the Northern Lights: the magical Aurora Borealis.

Composer Eriks Ešenvalds

Composer Eriks Ešenvalds

I’ve never had the opportunity to see this phenomenon, but it’s always been a dream of mine. Stars have always been an inspiration for composers, as can be heard in our performance of Monteverdi’s brilliant madrigal, Sfogava con le Stelle. Lately, a number of composers have been inspired by the night sky and the Northern Lights. I actually had to eliminate several lovely settings of Sara Teasdale’s poems – their frequent reference to being alone in nature at night, gazing at the stars, and finding solace in solitude has spurred many recent beautiful choral works. I settled on two for these performances – Winter Stars by the recently departed Steven Stucky, an important composer of mostly instrumental music from Ithica, New York; and Stars by the Young Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds. I first heard Stars at the American Choral Director’s Association 2015 convention in Salt Lake City. I loved the piece for it’s emotional immediacy and it’s beautiful use of water-tuned wineglasses (many of you know that I play a wineglass instrument that I made). Since then, Ešenvalds’ music has become a mainstay of concert programming across the United States. I chose two other works by Ešenvalds’ for our concert – Northern Lights and Rivers of Light, two pieces that both incorporate folksong references to the aurora borealis as well as historic accounts written by early arctic explorers. I’ve been excited by a new trend to set non-poetic texts such as historical documents and speeches in vocal music and this is among the first times that Sacred and Profane has delved into this expressive form.

I hope you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy this remarkable music with us!


A Winter's Night: Songs of Evening

Dear Friend of Sacred & Profane,
I’ve always tried to represent diverse experiences in our holiday concerts. At times, we’ve performed music from multiple religious persuasions, or presented concerts that unify the pieces through elements such as light or a certain composer. In this season celebrating Sacred and Profane’s 40th year of bringing beautiful choral music to Bay Area audiences, I wanted to craft a season focused on our title and our mission – Sacred and Profane. So this concert focuses on the profane – not necessarily the bawdy side of profane, but the secular and non-religious. I’ve always felt that the wintertime is a time to nestle in, to contemplate life’s depths. Sure, it’s a time for celebration, but it’s also a time for solitude, quite reflection, spiritual depth. Ours is a secular concert about the evening and the night, about the starry sky and the Northern Lights.

Sketch of Alfvén by Peder Severin Krøyer, 1903

The first half of our concert will begin with music of the evening – two pieces titled Abendständchen (Evening Serenade), but musical settings of different poems by two German masters – Brahms and Mendelssohn. Several of the singers have told me that the Brahms is one of their go-to pieces in all of choral repertoire. We’ll also sing one of my favorite pieces by the mid-20th century Swedish folk-style lyricist Hugo AlfvénAftonen, with it’s dreamy humming after each verse. Saint-Saëns’ Calmes des nuit illustrates our theme perfectly, with the composer and poet (both Saint-Saëns) denouncing those who love the city life as shallow, preferring the solitude of nature as the light is waning.
I was fortunate to be present for Karin Rehnqvist’s rehearsal of Sånger ur jorden (Songs of the Earth) with Adolf Fredrik’s Girls Chorus just before they toured with that work in China in 1998. I’ve programmed it several times since, and I love how the work, like much of her music, gives singers an emotional experience and message they are rarely allowed. In this piece, the young women are encouraged not to hide from the darkness and difficulties life brings.

composer Ola Gjielo

composer Ola Gjielo

I was happy to find Wintertide, a brand-new work by the popular Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo with a text by Anthony Silvestri (the same poet of Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, which we sang in May 2016). This work, an arrangement of a popular Norwegian Christmas tune, perfectly completes the first half of our concert about the spiritual depth and personal contemplation found in the winter evening.

In my next letter, I’ll talk about music of the stars, the Northern Lights, and the music of the Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds.

Rebecca Petra Naomi Seeman; Artistic Director, Conductor

Rebecca Petra Naomi Seeman; Artistic Director, Conductor






2017-2018 Season Announcement

2017-2018 Season: Forty Years of Sacred and Profane

 Marking our Monumental Milestone with Music & Merriment!

"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything" - PLATO


Sacred & Profane Chamber Chorus is excited to announce the 2017-2018 season, which marks our 40th Anniversary season! Founded in 1977, Sacred and Profane has been bringing diverse and high quality choral music to the Bay Area for forty years! We've planned an amazing season of concerts that reflect the mission in our name, programming music from all eras and traditions: from the Middle Ages to world premieres, composers from all over the globe, and both the sacred and profane. You won't want to miss out what we have in store for you: we'll be joined by actors and composers, reviving some classics, and premiering contemporary commissions. Peruse the website for more details, and stay tuned for some exclusive behind-the-scenes and archival extras. We hope you'll join us in musical celebration of this occasion!



House Music 2017

What's Your Forte?

House Music 2017

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Sacred & Profane's annual fundraiser returned this August with What's Your Forte? The House Music concerts are intimate salon-style concerts featuring the many talents of Sacred and Profane members & friends-- from solos to small ensembles in a wonderful variety of styles and instrumentations! Thanks to those who came out and made our fundraiser a smashing success!


Visit our Instagram to see more photos from House Music!