Singers Marin founder Jan Pedersen Schiff. Courtesy image.
Jan Pedersen Schiff, a towering figure in the Marin music community since she founded the nonprofit choral organization Singers Marin 33 years ago, has announced her impending retirement and plans to pass the conductor’s wand to other members of the organization who “look forward to more choral performances when they are allowed to sing together again.”

Schiff established the organization’s own take on the “think globally, act locally” mantra, singing everywhere from stages in Iceland and Australia to Bay Area concert venues and at the annual Winterfest celebration in downtown Mill Valley. Over the years, Singers Marin has performed at Carnegie Hall five times and Pedersen Schiff served as guest conductor there twice.  Her choirs, both adult and youth, have won international awards at the World Choir Games, formerly called the Choir Olympics; the Sydney Opera House; Graz, Austria; and Riga, Latvia. They were invited and attended premiere choral festivals around the world, including Scandinavia and South Africa.

“We’ll never turn down a voice that wants to sing,” Pedersen Schiff has said regularly over the years.

Born into a “very musical household,” Pedersen Schiff cultivated her own voice from a young age, beginning with church hymns under her mother’s tutelage as choir director. Those early years singing in a trio with her two sisters launched Pedersen Schiff into a life dedicated to music and the voice.

She went on to study and teach across the country and throughout Europe with a BA in Music Education from Augsburg College and a master’s degree in Choral Conducting from University of Colorado. In Los Angeles, Pedersen Schiff founded and directed her first choral group, the Hollywood Chorale, an all-women’s group of 50-60 voices. After she moved to Marin in 1986, Pedersen Schiff felt motivated by a lifelong passion and was armed with grassroots experience.

“I just felt like there was a need for choral music here,” she said.

Pedersen Schiff pursued her dream of filling Marin with choral voices the old-fashioned way, hitting bulletin boards and post offices armed with posters and cards. “It actually felt easier then – people sought out that kind of information,” she says of the decidedly less tech-driven way of spreading the word of those days. Pedersen Schiff’s efforts paid off, as she created Choral Singers of Marin in 1987 and garnered nonprofit 501(c)(3) status for it a year later. 

Pedersen Schiff’s first ensemble, Wings of Song, continued to grow today as an all-female chorus, primarily performing for Marin’s elderly audiences and hosting the 1994 California Women’s Chorus at the Marin Civic Center. That event provided opportunity to raise money for music scholarships. 

“I was a little nervous,” Pedersen Schiff explains. “It was our first time hosting a big event.” 

It was a complete success. The fundraising provided an unexpected surplus, and Pedersen Schiff reached out to Marin high schools to identify choral programs to fund. To her shock, however, “there really wasn’t much to give to,” as only a few high schools even had a program. 

Undeterred, Pedersen Schiff took it upon herself to launch Singers Marin’s honors choir. Dubbed les ètoiles, or “stars,” Singers Marin’s honor choir became the first of many youth groups serving singers of all ages. The “stars” have gone on to compete internationally, bringing home gold, silver, and bronze awards from stages around the world. 

“We feel that the work we are doing with children is vitally important to the future lives of this next generation,” Pedersen Schiff says.

Pedersen Schiff was inducted into the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame, presented the Milley Award for cultural achievement, and has received numerous accolades around the Bay Area. She had the honor of conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in a live television broadcast in March 2002.

Pedersen Schiff said she plans to move to Palm Springs later this summer.


Enjoy this video of Singers Marin members hosting a surprise zoom party for Pedersen Schiff upon her retirement: