As she was setting love poems from different eras to music, Paula Diesel Farina kept one thing in mind: Never end a concert on a mournful note.
A music teacher, singer and amateur composer, Farina had written music for a pair of contrasting pieces of poetry, one about first love and the other about the torment love can bring.
FOR THE RECORD - In a story about the premiere of Life and Love in the June 7 Howard County edition, two biographical facts were incorrect. Paula Diesel Farina is a published composer and a native of Connecticut.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
"In the second one, 'Love is a Sickness,' the left hand plays this thumping heartbeat that you desperately wish would stop," she said, referring to the elegiac piano accompaniment.
"And when the piece ends, it's like dragging yourself out of the theater after seeing a French movie and wanting to kill yourself," she said.
"I just couldn't leave the audience there."
So Farina kept going, ultimately transforming nine poems by various authors into an uplifting song cycle that the Nightingales, a Howard County women's vocal ensemble, will debut next weekend.
Called "Life and Love," the work is composed of 13 compositions with a theme, though the music styles range from Elizabethan era to madrigal to ragtime.
Interspersed between musical poems are two instrumental piano solos and two songs with Farina's own lyrics and music. She also sings alto in the concert.
"We have been encouraging Paula from the beginning," said director and accompanist Lois Hunter, who started the multi-denominational group nearly 12 years ago through Emory United Methodist Church in Ellicott City, where she is music director.
Farina, an Annapolis resident, joined the ensemble in 2004 and began contributing songs for their twice-yearly concerts soon after.
"It's just been heaven working with her and these singers," said Hunter, who founded the 11-member ensemble on a whim.
When Southern Living magazine offered to include the church's Christmas plans in a regional roundup of holiday celebrations in 1997, Hunter jumped at the opportunity.
She told the magazine's editorial staff that Emory would be sending its Nightingales caroling along historic Main Street for the town's annual Midnight Madness event in December.
There was just one small problem: The Nightingales didn't exist.
"I just said that off the top of my head," said Hunter, chuckling at the memory. She hung up the phone and began forming a group on the spot.
While it's been nearly 12 years since their hurried formation and many members have come and gone, the Nightingales have forged on and cultivated a loyal following, performing both religious and secular music by Bach, the Beatles, Billy Joel and many others.
Currently, the group is composed of Gigi Eippolito, Donna Hesson, Laurel Matey and Jill Spicher, first soprano; Karen Brown, Jennifer Cherer, Gail Phillips Smith and Trina Torkildsen, second soprano; and Pat Barnes, Jeannie Cutter and Farina, alto.
"They are a unique group, and very fun and enjoyable to listen to," said Michael Britt, music director at St. Margaret Parish in Bel Air and music faculty member at the Community College of Baltimore's Catonsville campus.
"They blend well and have a sense of unity that is hard to achieve in a smaller group, since there's no hiding within the ranks," said Britt, who has played pipe organ solos as part of past presentations.
Marlee Lindon, a private flute teacher in Howard County and professional flutist who has accompanied the ensemble, pointed out the collective ability of the group's members.
"They are equally talented and each of them is a wonderful musician in their own right," she said. "Once people discover them, they keep coming back."
Britt added, "They do things to please the audience, and it's obvious they have a good time doing it."
Pat Barnes, who has sung with the ensemble for a decade, pointed out a fringe benefit of becoming a member.
"While we're all here for the love of music, performing together is a lot like therapy," said the Ellicott City resident. "We really don't fit into a mold."
On Saturday at the 171-year-old church on Church Road, The Nightingales will notch another new experience on their belts as they present the premiere.
Because Farina teaches at St. Pius Regional School in Bowie, the group will present a second concert down the street at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church on June 14.
The composer said she hopes the music will make listeners reminisce.
"We all remember the infatuation and breathlessness of first love, yet most of us have experienced that sense of woe, too," said the Chicago native.
"Love has been written about in so many different ways, and that never really changes through the years," she said.
Hesson, one of the group's members who also sing professionally, said they are not only proud to perform Farina's work, they realize the extent of her accomplishment.
"It takes a special composer to set a poem to music and to have everything just mesh," she said, during a rehearsal break.
"I wanted to put across what the poets were feeling as they were writing," said Farina. "If they were here to hear this performance, I'd want them to listen and say, 'Exactly!' "
If you go
The premiere will be held at Emory United Methodist Church, 3810 Church Road, Ellicott City, at 7:30 p.m. June 13. The next day at 3 p.m. a second presentation will be held at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church, 14900 Annapolis Road, Bowie. A free-will donation will be collected. Call 301-760-8484.