Published courtesy of the Acorn Newspaper, December 30, 2020
By: Cary Ginell 

In the spirit of the phoenix, the ancient bird of Greek folklore that rises from the ashes of its predecessor, a new singing group has emerged from the cultural void wrought by the coronavirus.

Seraphour is the brainchild of singer Heidi Valencia Vass, a voice teacher at Cal Lutheran University and music director at La Reina High School in Thousand Oaks. When COVID-19 shut down the creative arts in Ventura County, Vass refused to declare defeat and decided to form a female vocal quartet to help heal and inspire through music.

“Singing is not the kind of thing you do isolated in a room by yourself or over Zoom,” she said, ironically, during a recent Zoom call. “So I reached out to my favorite female singers in the Conejo Valley, people who make me better, my personal ‘A team,’ and they all said yes. When we had our first rehearsal, it was wonderful to be able to sing with other people again.”

Although Vass’ goal is to perform before live audiences, she realizes that this can’t happen until the virus subsides significantly.

“Singing is considered a super spreader event,” she said, “so we can’t do much in terms of performing live for an audience. So until that happens, we’re doing the best we can to get music out to people via social media and online platforms.”

To that end, Vass began a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to record, produce and promote Seraphour’s debut CD. As of Dec. 29, the campaign, which ends Jan. 11, already had 38 backers and had raised more than half of its $4,300 goal.

Joining Vass in Seraphour are three local performers who also have distinguished credits as singers and voice teachers.

Emma Grace Roche received her bachelor’s degree from Westminster

Choir College and a master’s degree in voice performance from USC. Today, she maintains her own private voice studio and leads the K-4 music program at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School in Thousand Oaks.

Agoura native Dana Rouse studied at Biola University and the Eastman School of Music, and is now a vocal adjudicator, teacher and worship leader at Monte Vista Presbyterian Church in Newbury Park.

Melissa Birch, the youngest of the three, studied with Vass at La Reina and received her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Valparaiso University in Indiana. She has performed nationally and internationally as well as singing locally with CLU’s Areté Vocal Ensemble and the Los Robles Master Chorale.

The group’s name, Seraphour, was decided upon after a social media campaign, drawing inspiration from the “seraphim,” an angelic being, combined with an artistic rendering of the word “four.”

Seraphour’s repertoire focuses on sacred and classical music dating back to the Renaissance and Baroque eras, but also includes contemporary works, such as Spanish composer Javier Busto’s “Missa Minima” and a piece written by Vass’ son Aidan, a classical composer.

“It feels like there has been a lot of silence in this world,” Vass explained, “so this felt like the right place to focus our energies. I like to see ourselves keeping the flame lit but also encouraging people to write new music.”

Seraphour rehearses in a large room with a microphone in the middle and the four singers spaced 20 feet apart.

“We record every rehearsal and post little snippets on social media so people can see what we’re up to and where we’re at,” Vass said. “Just to be safe, we’re all tested regularly for COVID.”

Seraphour’s music is sung a cappella, or as Vass prefers, “unaccompanied,” to emphasize the purity of the human voice.

“The wonderful thing about female voices is that people tend to think that we sound relatively angelic,” Vass said. “So when you think of choirs of angels, hopefully people will start to think of Seraphour. Our audience is anybody that wants to listen to something that is absolutely beautiful and hopefully finds some hope and comfort in it.”