When she was five, Melissa Arasi sang her first solo in her family’s Cherokee County church. By twenty-one, the vocalist was teaching chorus to students just a few years younger than she at Walton High School in Marietta. Soon came a stint under Robert Shaw in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. It wasn’t long before Arasi was touring Europe and performing at Carnegie Hall. All the while, she maintained her work at Walton, even touring with her students in places like Paris’s Notre Dame.
In 2001, Arasi was tapped to supervise the Cobb County School District’s performing arts programs. It was a big opportunity, but it also meant she would be without a choir—which left her quite bereft. (“I cried for about two months every time I drove past the school,” she says.)
After earning her doctorate in music education from Georgia State University in 2006, Arasi knew she had to lead a chorus again. One day, she went on the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus website, and there it was: They were looking for a conductor to start a women’s chorus that would be their sister organization. “I looked at my husband and said, ‘This is my chorus! This is my chorus!’”
That was 2013. Today, Arasi, fifty, is artistic director of the Atlanta Women’s Chorus, a diverse group of about fifty-five women who give three concerts a year. Sure, there have been challenges in leading the nonprofit. For starters, she’s a straight woman leading a chorus that grew from the old Atlanta Feminist Women’s Chorus, a lesbian group. But Arasi has quickly won over any naysayers with her passion and charm. There’s also the juggle: She has the same day job at Cobb County Schools.
In fact, she’s nearing her thirtieth year with the county, where she supervises nearly 200 performing arts teachers. Arasi says she’s exhausted at the end of the day, but when she leads her chorus, she feels rejuvenated. “The interaction that happens is so unique and special that it’s really impossible to put into words,” she says. “It just feeds you.”