Off-the-clock: Taking the stage with the choir
It doesn’t matter whether she’s reviewing complex data related to a water right or learning hundreds of pages of classical music, Alex Bowen loves a challenge.
At work, Bowen is a senior engineer at Denver Water, where she does technical analysis for very complex long-term water supply projects.
In her free time, she spends countless hours learning and practicing complex classical pieces as a singer with the Colorado Symphony Chorus.
Depending on the time of year, being a member of the chorus could be simply a weekly commitment to attend rehearsals. However, during the performance season, it means multiple rehearsals and multiple performances every week.
“Some weeks, I just go to work, go to choir and go to sleep. Then, I get up and do it all over again,” Bowen said.
Bowen is a mezzo-soprano, or second soprano with the all-volunteer chorus that is part of the Colorado Symphony. Bowen, who has worked at Denver Water in the Water Resources Strategy section for three and a half years, has been singing with the chorus since 2009.
Vocalists are selected for the chorus by audition only, and the pieces performed with the Colorado Symphony are typically difficult and technically demanding pieces.
“I auditioned for the chorus because I wanted to be challenged,” Bowen said. “When I walked into rehearsals and realized some of these musicians have been singing together for 35 years and there were 180 people in a room who could sight read music, it was a complete game changer.”
In the chorus, there are singers who have been with the group since its formation in 1984. Because they have performed some works several times over the years, Bowen said they can move through those pieces in rehearsal quickly without each section learning their parts separately.
“You get a higher level of complexity with the music and can put more detail into the production technique,” Bowen said.
“We’re able to refine complex and challenging passages to get them perfect. It’s a whole different level and it’s amazing the music we can do.”
Learning and mastering these complex classical pieces translates well with Bowen’s professional training as an engineer.
As with the chorus, Bowen's projects at Denver Water are technical and require a lot of people working together. She and her teammates act like a consulting group within Denver Water to provide data and modeling for projects related to issues like climate change, planning and impacts to water supply.
“I definitely like to be challenged at work and in my music, and I’m definitely happy to be in this choir,” Bowen said. “It absolutely keeps me on my toes.”
It was pretty intense compared to what she had done before.
“I was thrilled after that first rehearsal,” Bowen said. “But I walked away thinking I was going to have to seriously up my game for this choir!”
To be in the chorus, Bowen is required to sing in most of the full choir concert series, which are typically large-scale works, such as Handel’s “Messiah.”
As her schedule permits, Bowen also can take part in other optional concerts, which are more of the “pops” concerts that involve performing showtunes and movie soundtracks. Almost every summer, Bowen has performed with the Colorado Symphony at local festivals in Aspen and Vail.
“In Denver, our concerts are in the Boettcher Concert Hall, but we sing outdoors at summer festivals,” said Bowen. “That’s lovely, unless you’re allergic to whatever’s blooming in the gardens at the time.”
While it is exhausting, Bowen said singing with the chorus works for her because she gets so much out of it.
“It’s hard to describe exactly what singing is for me, but I think back to the one time in my life in college when I wasn’t in a choir,” Bowen said. “I quickly realized I’d made a grave error, because I constantly felt like I was missing something.”
The next semester, she was back with a choir.
“I think for some people, it’s like going to a gym or going to therapy,” Bowen said. “Singing just helps me stay sane and I love it.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Colorado Symphony Chorus is on hiatus.
“Singing with the chorus is really a terrible pandemic hobby to have,” Bowen said.
Bowen said she just sings around the house now, though she has done some small online singing projects with friends.
Like many Denver Water employees, Bowen is teleworking, so she can sing while she works.
Bowen is optimistic about the chorus getting back to the stage soon.
“I’m antsy to get back to rehearsals, for sure,” Bowen said. “The way I look at it, I’d like it to be as soon as possible, but no sooner.”