Central Dakota Children's Choir (Bismarck, ND)-Inspiring New Generation of Singers/Creating Community in Sparsely Populated State

North Dakota, with a population of approximately 758,000 (Census Bureau 2016), is the fourth least populated and fourth least densely populated state in the US.  It is in the capital city of Bismarck (metro population 130,000) that the Central Dakota Children’s Choir has created a thriving community of young singers who are enriching and strengthening the social fabric of the metro area and serving as cultural ambassadors for the state.  The choir program has grown to include six different choirs of over 300 singers in grades 2-12 from 47 schools around the region.

The choirs perform nearly 40 concerts in schools, churches and other venues annually for approximately 15,000 people and sponsor several music education programs throughout the year.  Their members come from a variety of backgrounds and attend private, public, and homeschools.  According to its website, “Central Dakota Children's Choir's mission is to provide a unique choral education and experience to the children of central North Dakota, to enrich the artistic community, and to serve as ambassadors for our state through music and education.”  The group offers tuition waivers to make the program financially accessible to students from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds.  Because the choir has been around for nearly twenty years, they have graduated a broad base of alumni who continue to return each spring to join forces with the other choristers.  

Learn more about the work of the Central Dakota Children’s Choir by watching the video below.


Creative Spirit Endures Regardless of Age with Golden Tones Chorus-Wayland, MA

According to the 2010 US census, the number of people 65 and older jumped 15.1 percent between 2000 and 2010. They now make up 13 percent (over 40 million) of the total population, compared with 12.4 percent in 2000 and 4.1 percent in 1900.  The quality of life for many seniors is enriched by participating in music activities, and the physical, psychological and social benefits have been documented in various studies.  There’s no need to look any further than the seventy member Golden Tones chorus in Wayland, Massachusetts to see this first hand.

The Golden Tones chorus performs nearly 50 concerts a year in senior citizen residences, schools, faith communities and public events reaching more than 2,000 people.  Now in their 29th year, their members come from 17 nearby towns to rehearse each week and to engage in community service projects.  In 2013, they collaborated with the Wayland Middle School Select Chorus and more recently with the Natick High School Advanced Choir to present intergenerational joint concerts.  “Some members have choral experience, and others are at a point in their lives where they want to try something new,” explained their conductor, Deborah Marion, in a recent interview. “In fact, we’re now singing a song from the musical ‘Mame.’  The lyrics are ‘Open a new window, open a new door. Travel a new highway that’s never been tried before.’ Everyone loves that song because it has such a positive message.”

The group was profiled by Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a 2009 story on CNN extolling the health benefits of singing into one’s 70s, 80s, and 90s.  

Dallas Street Choir: Homeless, Not Voiceless-Dallas, Texas

There are approximately 3,900 homeless people living on the streets of Dallas, Texas according to the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance’s 2016 count.  That number represents a 24% increase over 2015.  These statistics frame the magnitude of the problem, but the challenge of addressing it has as many solutions as there are homeless people.  In an effort to create change, Jonathan Palant, a highly esteemed choral conductor in the area, undauntedly founded the Dallas Street Choir in October 2014.

“The Dallas Street Choir strives to offer an otherwise marginalized community of people a place to experience art, and specifically choral music. Our members come from all walks of life: 68% stay in shelters while 23% live on the streets; nearly half are in their forties and fifties; two-thirds have high school diplomas, and 64% are African American. Thus the tagline for the Dallas Street Choir is Homeless, Not Voiceless.  Our model demonstrates that participation in a consistent, structured, safe, and creatively engaging environment better equips individuals experiencing homelessness to find a job, housing and improve their overall lifestyle. For our members, we aim to provide: practical musicianship training; an environment that promotes accountability; and a community that offers compassion and hope.”  -Website   

In 2015, the choir created a music video that captures the humanity of some of the 3,900 and gives voice to their struggles.  (See below)  The Dallas Street Choir is changing the face of homelessness in Dallas and using choral music to create community in the face of formidable odds.  If you live near New York City, mark your calendars for their June 14, 2017 performance in Carnegie Hall! 

After Election, San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Changes 40th Anniversary Tours Plans To Engage In Dialogue

This is going to be quite a week!  Tomorrow, we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and this coming Friday, our country swears in a new president.  Regardless of who one voted for, the election results surprised nearly everyone.  As someone who hails from Indiana and has lived in New York City for twenty years, I have witnessed first-hand the growing chasm between the "red states" and "blue states."  As the population has shifted to urban areas, the ideological divide has only deepened.  Our tendency is to surround ourselves with others who share our world view and eschew those whose views differ.  Our ability to listen (really listen) and to empathize with our neighbors has been replaced with online attacks on complete strangers.

After the election, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus made the decision to cancel their international tour in celebration of their 40th anniversary season and to replace it with a tour to Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee.  Their director Tim Seelig summed up their decision with these words.  "In response to the election, we decided we have as much work to do at home as we would do abroad.  We want to go to those places that are still strongholds of this kind of discrimination and bigotry.  And bring our voice.  And encourage people there with our music.  And also hopefully change some hearts and minds."  This is the work we all should commit ourselves to, whether our candidate won the election or not.  This is the power of choral music.  If we can listen to each other's song, maybe we'll be willing to listen to each other's words.  Here's the video the SFGMC released to announce the Lavender Pen Tour.  Learn more about the chorus and the tour at http://www.sfgmc.org/

Inmate-led Goose Creek Singers "Ultimate Light In A Dark Place." Wasilla, Alaska Goose Creek Correctional Facility

The Goose Creek Correctional Facility in Wasilla, Alaska is the last place one might expect to a find a community chorus.  It houses all of Alaska's approximately 1,050 prisoners.  There, community is formed by common circumstances.  In spite of those circumstances, inmate Chris More engaged his passion for choral conducting and created a choir comprised of fellow inmates.  His effort has strengthened the bonds of community and created a sense of hope in what would seem to many to be a hopeless situation.  

Loren Holmes' December 15, 2016 story for Alaska Dispatch News tells the story of this choir.  Their recent concert attracted a large audience.  "We never get this many people showing up for one thing, not even church," said choir member Chris Binkley.  "It's almost like you can see the convict come off of people in here."  "This place isn't the way society may see it," he continued.  "This place can be full of hope, full of joy, and we can have something to live for.  There's some people with good hearts in here, who've made mistakes, but they're on the road to recovery."  At the end of the story, Chris More says "we've all seen the studies that show how music can change lives, how it's great therapy, and that's no exception here.  In fact, it's doubly so here.  It's the ultimate light in a dark place."  I invite you to learn more about this story of hope and transformation by watching Loren Holmes' piece below.

Columbus, Ohio Harmony Project-Changing the tune. Changing the community.

Community arts organizations create spaces for musicians, visual artists, and dancers ages 5-105 to come together, work together, create together, and engage in a collaborative process that builds relationships across race, culture, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status and political affiliation.  Strong community arts programs create strong communities.

As someone who has dedicate much of my life to the art of choral singing, I have witnessed its formidable power in various communities.  During 2017, I will be highlighting community choruses around the country that bring people together to achieve something bigger than any individual can achieve.  I’ll be featuring one choir from each of the 50 states.

I’m kicking it off with the Harmony Project in Columbus, Ohio.  Jane Pauley profiled David Brown, the founder of the 225-member chorus that has 400 on a waiting list to join.  In the past seven years he has created a movement that changing lives and transforming the Columbus community one rehearsal at a time.  David’s compelling vision of what it means to create harmony comes together at the end of the story when choristers from the Ohio Reformatory for Women join forces with the larger choir in concert.  Learn more about the story by watching the video below.