While we always love to tip our hats to inspiring, powerful women with new business ideas and entrepreneurial pursuits in the area, it’s important to recognize those who have been putting in many, many years of hard work and dedication as well. Our Hoboken Girl of the Week is the perfect example of just that: Joan Litman is the founder of Cantigas Women’s Choir and recently conducted her final concert. She is preparing for retirement after 16 years as artistic director. Check out our interview with her as she reflects on a successful career:
Joan, On How Cantigas Women’s Choir Was Born
I had watched mothers at Mustard Seed School watch their children. Their eyes told me that they wanted to sing. They needed to sing. In grad school in Hungary, I heard many women’s choirs from Eastern Europe. I thought — “Let’s try it.” It was a good idea at the right time.
In 2002, I founded Cantigas Women’s Choir with the idea of bringing together diverse women’s voices and making an impact on our community. On Saturday, May 19, I conducted my final concert with the group in Hoboken.
On Her Inspirations + Motivations
I’m constantly inspired by my fantastic two children, as well as powerful musical ensembles like Cantigas. Not much keeps me up at night. Okay, I’ll confess, Facebook does! But my “late night” is probably the early extreme of “Hoboken late nights.”
Goals + Passions
For years — decades actually — I have been asked to teach and present multicultural songs and singing games to music teachers throughout the country and abroad (most recently, I’ve been to Poland and Qatar). I plan to continue this and hope to do it in a way that stimulates curiosity and openness to new cultures. Other than at Mustard Seed and the Hudson School, I’ve never presented in Hudson County. I’d love to be invited by Jersey City or Hoboken public schools.
A Typical Day in the Life
Early mornings are my time — that’s the benefit of being retired from a day job.
On The Highs + Lows
The high point is preparing music for concerts and conferences. The low point is the inevitable grunt work and the surprising, unglamourous curve balls that come with a large ensemble and a nonprofit budget.
Highlight of Her Career
It’s amazing to work with choruses and watch them grow — and be so taken by the music they are learning. This is especially delightful when the music is something they’re not sure they’ll enjoy at first. Most recently, I brought a startlingly dramatic contemporary composition by a Canadian composer of Latvian descent, Imant Raminsh, called Daybreak. At first, I could hear the choir’s inner groans and sighs of “another super difficult piece.” But it’s so well-composed and the drama of the Native American lyrics in this setting is compelling. The choir loves it now — and I’m smiling!
Other highlights have been when the Mustard Seed School chorus premiered the Viet Nam Oratorio conducted by Seiji Ozawa. with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Chorus at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.
What a Day Off is Like
I hang with my daughter Emily, son Peter, and granddaughter Claire. If there are more than, say, a week or two off, I like to get on a plane and go somewhere that requires a passport.
Favorite Concerts Performed
Cantigas’ community service concerts: Our premiere performance at the Edna Mahan women’s prison with both the Mustard Seed School chorus and Cantigas Women’s Choir. The inmates warmed up to us and eventually sang along — our singers were deeply moved. I’ve also enjoyed our collaborative concerts, in Hoboken, Manhattan, and Buenos Aires with Cantigas’ sister choir, Coral Femenino de Caballito in Argentina.
Cantigas Women’s Choir is a dynamic ensemble. I’m honored to have been its founding artistic director. I look forward to the energy and artistry my successor will bring to the community.
How She Got Into Her Career
I’m a choral director, not much of a singer. Although I sang in choirs, it was not until I was student teaching that I thought, “I want to do this!” Fortunately, I fell in love with some tremendous teachers and outstanding graduate programs both in California and Hungary. When our family moved here in 1979, I looked at the motley first twelve students at Mustard Seed School and thought — well, let’s go!
Advice to Someone Pursuing The Same Career Path
Deep breaths. There is a lot of hidden grunt work. Embrace it — or find another career. Also, accept your limitations and know where you need help, early on! Work from your strengths. Follow your heart.
And now, some of her Hudson County favorites:
What is your favorite restaurant in Hoboken?
Hard one! I love Bin 14 and Ali Baba. In JC, the Light Horse Tavern and Rumi.
What is your favorite boutique in Hoboken?
What do you love most about Hoboken?
There’s so much life here, so much history in one square mile. I can sit in Church Square Park and watch children play on the seals that my children played on. I also love the renovation of the waterfront. It was a long time coming — and it’s beautiful.
What is your favorite thing to do in Hudson County?
I love walking along the waterfront from Hoboken to Paulus Hook. My dog also votes for this (as long as we bring a ball).
How long have you lived + worked in Hoboken?
40 years in September!
What is your favorite outdoor place to spend time in Hoboken?
The spectacular waterfront.
Where do you go out with friends in the area?
I was raised near the beach in southern California, so I love our waterfront — I’m a water person.
What is something you think needs to come to Hoboken or Jersey City?
I’d like to see beautiful low-moderate income housing return to Hoboken.
Want to be featured or nominate someone as an upcoming Hoboken Girl of the Week?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org about your/her story.