Sun Min Lee, the director of Dolce and professor of practice in the music department, leads the all-women’s ensemble during a weekly practice on Monday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Zoellner Arts Center. Lee is seen as a role model among members of the ensemble. (Jessica Hicks/B&W Staff)

Breaking barriers: Dolce women give a voice to all Lehigh women


Sarah Dudney, ’17, always had a love for music.

In fact, she arrived at Lehigh with a choral arts scholarship. Dudney’s scholarship required her to join Dolce, Lehigh University’s women ensemble, for four semesters, but she became so connected to the group she has remained a part of it for eight.

In the realm of music and beyond, Dolce has brought an additional layer to Dudney’s life that she was unable to find elsewhere. Dolce — which usually meets for one hour every Monday — provides music education as well as a support system for the women involved.

In the context of music, (Dolce) brings something to the effect that I’m not in a sorority, I’m not in Greek life, so I don’t have any real focused female groups that I’m a part of,” Dudney said. “Dolce gives me that.”

The history of Dolce is intertwined with the history of women at Lehigh. Lehigh first admitted undergraduate women in 1971, the same year the school implemented a women’s choir. “Bidlack’s Brigade” became part of Lehigh’s choral system for eight years until it separated to become part of what is today the University Choir.

Dolce was founded in 2007 by select members of the Lehigh University Choir and its first director, Deborah Field. To be a member of Dolce, singers must also be members of the University Choir.

In the eyes of its members, Dolce helps fill a gender gap that is prevalent on campus.

“We (women) are here, and sometimes it is harder for us to do certain things,” said Carley Powers, ’19, an assistant manager of Dolce. “But when we come together we are really powerful.”

In the December 2015 Lehigh Survey, 37.3 percent of individuals who responded agreed that many women at Lehigh worry about how people perceive them because of their gender. Also, 32 percent of respondents agreed many women at Lehigh experience stress or anxiety because of the way they are treated. Powers said in an institution that historically has a male-dominated population, it is important that women find their place and be heard.

 Powers said celebrating women is a core component of Dolce, and coming together to produce their sound is what truly bonds each woman with the next. In their rehearsals each week she sees the power they have.

Madison Schenker, ’18, the manager of Dolce, particularly feels that power in the warmup component of rehearsals. Under their director Sun Min Lee, the women leave each practice taking away something different.

“We never have the exact same warmup,” Schenker said. “(Lee) is really good at turning warmups into what we need on a given day, or gauging them toward what the pieces need from us.”

Schenker said it is only during rehearsal she forgets about the responsibilities awaiting her when she steps outside of the room. It is not only the act of coming together in rehearsal and performance that solidifies the Dolce community, but also the director herself.

“Anytime (Lee) is talking to us before a concert or after a concert, she makes you feel so welcome and so at home,” Powers said. “She makes you feel like she is your mom at Lehigh.”

Lee, along with her accompanist Susan Frickert, exhibit strength in a male-dominated cohort, Dudney said.

“It is really encouraging to see them support and empower each other to be better at what they do,” Dudney said. “The way they interact with each other and the way they interact with us plays a huge role in shaping our group.”  

The year 2016 marked 45 years of women at Lehigh, and members of Dolce celebrated by commissioning a piece solely intended for a women’s ensemble. Female writers, composers, directors and performers worked on the piece.

Schenker said this was the first time something like this has been done at Lehigh.

“Many times all-women groups get bad reputations,” Dudney said. “People say we can’t sound as good as men’s groups because they can have bass and guys singing in falsetto. It’s frustrating because I think we sound good and we work hard to sound the way we do.”

On Feb.17, Dolce will be performing in the “Raise Your Voice” concert, the second annual show commemorating 45 years of women at Lehigh.

Powers said becoming a member of Dolce provides a learning experience both in and out of the world of music. Dolce also provides members with the opportunity to travel.

The group traveled to Italy with the University Choir to in May 2015 and will be joining them in Spain this coming May. Schenker said it is with their encouragement of one another that Dolce members are able to grow.

“We all have a natural tendency to support each other,” Schenker said. “We really want what is best for everyone, since it can sometimes be tough to be a girl elsewhere on this campus and in the world.”

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