It's about as aptly named as a fundraiser can be: The Wine, Women and Song event on April 8 will feature wine-tastings, music and the Southern Arizona Women's Chorus.

"Choruses have been around since the 1500s, before Bach wrote his famous works. Across the nation, they are becoming more and more popular. I just went to Chicago for a conference for choir directors and there were 10,000 people in attendance," said Southern Arizona Women's Chorus Director Terrie Ashbaugh.

The community-based chorus, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, has 86 members ranging in age from 18 to 93. It is becoming known for its eclectic and versatile repertoire - classical, Broadway medleys, folk songs, jazz, spiritual and gospel - and collaborations with area musical groups such as the Tucson Boys Chorus, the Tucson Concert Band, Tucson Symphonic Orchestra, Arizona Symphonic Winds and the University of Arizona's HarpFusion.

The chorus has performed at Carnegie Hall with the New England Symphonic Ensemble as well as at local holiday special events and community celebrations.

The women's chorus also offers outreach and education. In addition to public concerts, it provides free performances for local seniors in nursing homes, assisted living centers and retirement villages. It offers workshops to local high school and college choirs, community choruses and the public.

Ashbaugh is particularly excited about the upcoming spring workshop, "The Language of Spirituals and Singing Gospel With Style," featuring guest artist Rollo Dilworth, professor of music and director of choral activities and music education at the North Park University School of Music in Chicago.

"For years, schools typically had good music education, but nowadays the first thing cut when budgets are cut is the arts, so schools often don't have the money to bring in experts and guest artists to teach music. We want to provide that for the community. We feel there is so much to be learned and we want to share that," Ashbaugh said.

Diverse professional and musical backgrounds and strong motivation are keys to the group's success, according to Mary Ellen Essiambre, the choir's chairwoman.

"We have people who are very accomplished and have had music lessons and voice lessons and can read music and others who have not trained formally who love it just as much. We have a great mix," she said.

Essiambre joined the chorus two years ago when she moved to Tucson from the Bay Area. The retired computer programmer said community choruses such as the Southern Arizona Women's Chorus fill an important niche, offering a venue for adults who may have enjoyed music in their youth and are seeking creative fulfillment that can provide emotional, mental and even physical benefits.

"We need creativity because it stirs people's souls. I might be out of sorts or not feeling quite well and I go to rehearsal and come out feeling terrific," she said. "It is uplifting. I think creativity does that to people - it lifts them up."

If you go

• What: Wine, Women and Song, the second annual fundraiser to benefit the Southern Arizona Women's Chorus

• When: 5 to 9 p.m. April 8

• Where: San Pedro Chapel, 5230 E. Fort Lowell Road

• Cost: $35 per person

• Etc.: Festivities include wine-tastings, hors d'oeuvres, performances by the Southern Arizona Women's Chorus and a raffle featuring prizes such as a six-course gourmet dinner for four, a weeklong stay at a time share in Pinetop and a private wine tasting compliments of Total Wine. Raffle tickets are $10 each or five for $40 and you must be present to win.

• Tickets and info: For tickets to the event call 404-3148. For more information about the chorus and upcoming concerts or workshops, go to

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at