Newport Navy Choristers On A Mission to Raise Funds for Local Non-Profits -Newport, Rhode Island

Newport, Rhode Island is home to the Naval Station Newport, which houses the U.S. Naval War College, the Naval Justice School, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and a major U.S. Navy training center.  For over 60 years, the Newport Navy Choristers have gathered to present choral programs that raise money for charitable organizations and to provide enjoyable concerts for their audiences.  Membership is open to active duty, reserve and retired military personnel (both office and enlisted) of all the armed services and the dependents age 16 or over as well as Department of Defense civilian employees and their dependents. 

The Choristers perform four concerts a year, and since 1961, they have raised over $400,000 for organizations in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, including The Fort Adams Trust, The Museum of Irish History, Stopover Services of Newport County, the Middletown Senior Center, Edward King House, Shepherd’s Center of Fall River, Newport Historical Society, and Looking Upwards.  The Nautical Notes and the Sea Chanteys are two subgroups of the chorus who perform at annual concerts and in smaller venues.

The Choristers have also participated in many local Navy observances and memorials throughout the years, including Navy Night at the Pops at Symphony Hall, Boston and events celebrating the 200th Birthday of the U.S. Navy (both in 1975), commissioning of USS Normandy (1989) and USS Chafee (2003), and numerous Naval War College graduation ceremonies to name a few.  Here’s a performance of You Are My Sunshine sung for a concert to benefit the Edward King House Senior Center.

Dakota Choral Union Enriching the Black Hills Region and Welcoming New Citizens at Mount Rushmore Naturalization Ceremony -Rapid City, South Dakota

When most people hear the state of South Dakota mentioned, images of Mount Rushmore National Memorial spring to mind.  It’s in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, about 25 miles from the national memorial, that the Dakota Choral Union is bridging boundaries and touching lives in Rapid City.  Dakota Choral Union, a non-auditioned chorus, was formed after a joint concert between the Black Hills Chorale, Black Hills Voices in Concert, and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Concert Choir in the spring of 1995.

The group, under the direction of Dr. Charles Canaan since 2014, has collaborated with the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra, Bells of The Hills, A Capella Showcase, the Black Hills State University Chorus, Dakota Artists Guild, and the Black Hills Photographic Society. DCU and Kantorei, the auditioned chamber group specializing in unaccompanied choral repertoire, share their passion for vocal music at public events, community meetings, and in assisted-care facilities.  The choir jointly sponsors the Young Vocal Artist Competition annually with the music department of Black Hills State University.  The group concluded their last season by singing at the Naturalization Ceremony at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  (Listen below)  They are scheduled to do so again in June, 2018. 

Caliente Community Chorus in Farmington, New Mexico Connecting with Audiences Near and Far

San Juan County, New Mexico is considered one of the geographically largest counties in the country covering 5,538 square miles.  The area was settled by Ancestral Puebloans in the 7th century and has been inhabited by the Navajos, Jicarilla Apaches and Utes. In 1901 the town of Farmington was incorporated and since 2006, the Caliente Community Chorus has been bringing singers together from the region “to inspire audiences, provide a creative outlet for adult singers, and travel to exciting locations.”

In a relatively short time, the chorus, a diverse and non-auditioned choir under the direction of Virginia Nickels-Hircock, has collaborated with the Southwest Civic Winds, Durango Chamber Singers, Piedra Vista High School, Durango Choral Society, San Juan Symphony and other local college choirs in Farmington and around the Four Corners region.  The group awards two scholarships annually-one is a piano lesson scholarship for students 8-17 years of age and the other is a college scholarship that is awarded to a musician who plans to major in the fine arts.

The chorale was founded by Virginia Nickels-Hircock and Robyn Woodard “who believe that the real beauty and magic of music lies in its ability to celebrate, comfort, strengthen and entertain.”  Its repertoire ranges from opera choruses to cathedral classics, from world folk to jazz standards, from Broadway favorites to cinema greats.  When it comes to traveling, the chorus is on the move.  They have performed multiple concert tours to various places including Spain, Italy, Scotland, Ireland, Greece and New York City.



College Community Chorus Strengthening Town and Gown Relations in Middlebury, VT

The state of Vermont is the second least populous state (approx. 625,000-2010 Census) in the country, and as of 2015, it was the leading producer of maple syrup.  In 1800, Congregationalists founded Middlebury College, the first operating college in Vermont in the town of Middlebury (Pop. 8,500).  Town and gown relations are strained in many small towns across the country that are home to colleges or universities, but the Middlebury College Department of Music’s College Community Chorus is using choral music to strengthen the relationships between townspeople and students.

The choir, conducted by Jeff Rehbach, is open to high school students, college students, alumni, staff, faculty and any other community members who love to sing.  The group performs concerts the weekend before Thanksgiving each year and in May, and they host the annual Messiah Sing that is open to the community.  Students, who can register and receive credit for the course, often note that the 90-voice chorus provides a place to sing, to explore music together, and to make life-long friends with others from on- and off-campus.  "I am so happy I decided to take choir. It was a very positive experience and I would definitely recommend it to future students. Singing allows students to decompress and re-contextualize their collegiate lives... I learned about the collaboration, patience, and self-awareness that is required to make collective art... I've learned how to read music, to work as part of a team, to train my own voice to fit a part, to take care of myself so that I can sing, and to value having friends in the community."

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Greater New Haven Community Chorus "Building Community One Note at a Time"-New Haven, CT

The Greater New Haven Community Chorus is committed to its goal of "building community one note at a time" in the Greater New Haven metropolitan area of nearly 900,000 residents (U.S. Census Bureau).  The 100-voice chorus, founded in 1963, strives to use music to break down barriers, resolve differences, and transcend borders locally as well as globally. 

With concert program themes like Stand Together, a celebration of the global community, and War & Peace-Reflection, Honor and Hope, a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI and the 75th anniversary of the start of WWII and honoring those who served, their Artistic Director, Noah Blocker-Glynn, aims to connect the art of choral singing with the human experience.

In an effort to make stronger connections with the community, the group partners with the New Haven Police Department to sponsor an annual coat drive, and the chorus collaborates with Christ Church Choir (Guilford) to perform an annual “Choirs for a Cause” concert to raise money for non-profits like Wounded Warrior Project, Doctors Without Borders, and Episcopal Relief & Development Fund.  They recently sang the national anthem for the Bridgeport Bluefish baseball game.  The group awards an annual Choral Conducting Scholarship to a student currently enrolled in a music degree program who has a strong interest in choral conducting and teaching.  Clearly, GNHCC is committed to making choral music relevant 

One member explained, “I joined the chorus because I wanted to learn how to sing with other people and to sing harmony. I wanted to learn to be a good alto! I have stayed because of the great eclectic range of interesting and beautiful music we sing each semester; because our director Noah does such a great job of teaching, leading, pushing, and inspiring us; and because the chorus is such a welcoming group to everyone who wants to put in the work to make music."

Kona Choral Society Embodies Aloha Spirit in Hawaii

Various images come to mind when one thinks of Hawaii, our 50th state and our only state to be located outside of North America.  Its nearly 1.4 million residents embody the Aloha Spirit which has led to the rich diversity of cultural expressions.  The Kona Choral Society, located on the Big Island, is a volunteer chorus founded in 1990 that is dedicated to performing major works along with music that reflects different genres including African, Asian, Latin American, Polynesian, American Folk, Black Gospel, Spirituals, as well as traditional Hawaiian choral music.

In addition to presenting their annual concerts, the group hosts a two and three-day SPARK! Music Camp during the October and March school breaks that serves nearly 100 K-8th grade students.  The free music intensive includes instruction and performance opportunities in ukulele, keyboard, band, percussion, dance and choral singing.  Those singers who would like to sing throughout the year can join KCS’s Primary Chorus, Children’s Chorus and Youth Chorus who rehearse throughout the year. 

In an effort to encourage others to spread the Aloha Spirit, the group has performed locally at the annual Martin Luther Jr. celebration and has hosted a “Sing for the Cure” concert, and performed internationally on concert tours to China, Scandinavia and Australia among other destinations.  The personal mission of the group’s conductor, Susan McCreary Duprey, is “to get people singing.  It’s thrilling to see a nervous alto with no experience stick with it and gain the confidence to sing solo at other venues.  All it takes is the desire to sing.”

Palouse Choral Society Creating A Window To the World in the Quad-City Region of Idaho

With a population of over 1.6 million people, Idaho is the 14th largest and the 7th least populated state with around 38% of its land held by the United States Forest Service, the most of any state.  Since the mid-1970s, the Palouse Choral Society has been serving the quad–city region by “celebrating choral music through masterful performances, educational outreach, and cultural enrichment with singers from the Palouse, Valley, Prairie, and Clearwater regions.” 

The group typically performs four concerts a year under their new music director, Dr. Sarah Graham.  “Music is a way we can affect and have an effect on people emotionally and mentally,” Graham said. “I think in the choral arts we can create programs that educate and open people up to new ideas and cultures.  The choral arts embody the traditions of societies across the globe. These traditions and the cultures that come with them can be shared through choir. When these different cultures are shared, an empathetic understanding is developed for the different type of people that inhabit our planet.”

Her programming for the upcoming season will do just that with programs that include Christmas music from around the world, a concert dedicated to the genre of African-American Spirituals, and a concert tribute to Native American cultures.

The group recently started a Palouse/Two Rivers Beer Choir chapter, which is part of a national phenomenon promoting social singing at bars, pubs, and breweries, and in the fall of 2015, they established the PCS Children’s Choir for 4th – 8th grade program students to foster a new generation of singing in the Palouse and Valley regions.

The Indianapolis Women’s Chorus Empowering Women and Transforming Communities Through Song

Since 1994, The Indianapolis Women’s Chorus has welcomed women of “all races, faiths, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender expressions.”  The stated mission of the group of approximately 50 singers is “to embody musical excellence and the power of women and song to transform communities.”  The chorus performs music from various traditions that gives voice to the experience of women past and present while creating a singing community that “uses song and harmony to enable each woman to grow personally, musically, and within her community.”

In addition to the two or three annual concerts, the group has cultivated a visible presence in the community.  They have performed at the Indiana Women’s Prison, the Madame (C.J.) Walker Theatre, the RCA Tennis Championships, and Indiana Fever basketball games.  They have also participated in events sponsored by GALA (the Gay and Lesbian Association of choruses), the Sister Singers Network, the National Women’s Music Festival, and the National Women's Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  

A chorister who joined IWC over ten years ago when dealing with personal and family health crises described her experience by saying, "If I were to survive and be of help to my loved ones, I knew music had to be an essential part of my life. My favorite part of belonging to IWC is listening to all the beautiful voices singing around me.  IWC is always evolving, expanding, seizing the moment to bring healing through music to our community and ourselves, then rippling out across Mother Earth."

Interfaith Friendship Children’s Choir Finding Common Ground in Little Rock, Arkansas

The Interfaith Center of Little Rock, part of the Institute for Theological Studies at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, has been a place where people of different faiths can come together to find common ground and to develop a deeper understanding of each other.  Their stated mission is to reduce the hatred and fear among the world religions.  Rev. Susan Sims Smith, an Episcopal priest, started the Center in 2011 and partnered with Sophia Said, a Muslim, to create programming, service initiatives, and interfaith prayer events that engage below from a variety of faith backgrounds.

Last fall, the Interfaith Friendship Children’s Choir was formed as an outgrowth of the Interfaith Friendship CampMary Ibis, conductor of the group of singers comprised of second through sixth graders, chooses repertoire from different faith traditions that cultivates a deeper understanding of different faiths and celebrates the common ground they all share.  The current group of about 20 singers come from Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist faith traditions.  "I watched my son become friends with a boy from the temple he might not otherwise ever had the opportunity to become friends with, because they don't go to school together or worship at the same place," Ibis said in a recent interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Yet they are having these conversations. Establishing these lines of communication among kids who respect their faith and the faith of others - I don't know what more you could hope for."

Children of all faiths are welcome to join.  Learn more about the choir by watching this news story by THV11.  

Belle Voci Blending Service With Song in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Founded in 2012, the 50-voice intergenerational women’s chorus, Belle Voci, has been using choral performances as a means for social good by supporting causes that primarily benefit women.  The community-based ensemble includes “college students, recent graduates, mothers, grandmothers, three sets of sisters, eight ladies with degrees in music, two Ph.Ds, and twenty-five ladies who sang in choir while they were in college,” according to their website.

In their first five years, the chorus has raised funds for various non-profits in the Pittsburgh area including Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, Homewood YMCA Food Bank, Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh Foundation’s Race for the Cure.  They have cultivated partnerships with other vocal artists, composers and choirs in the area that have led to joint performances with "Canticum" a sub-group of  the The Steel City Men's Chorale, Essence of Joy Alumni Singers from Penn State University, Giambelli String Quartet, Pittsburgh Boy Choir, University of Pittsburgh’s Panther Rhythms, Aeolian Winds of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Brass, and Heritage Gospel Chorale of Pittsburgh to name a few.

Recently they launched Giovani Voci, a choir program for girls ages 9-14.  This quote by the conductor of Giovani Voci, Jenna Hayes, captures the essence of their mission.  “I am an advocate for social good, and see music as a perfect vehicle for effecting change. Singing empowers women; it provides a strength we can transfer to other aspects of our lives.”  



Midcoast Community Chorus Singing As A Community For The Community in Rockport, Maine

When Mimi Bornstein invited singers to participate in a performance of Paul Winter’s Missa Gaia in celebration of Earth Day in 2005, she was shocked that more than 130 singers showed up to sing.  The concert attracted an audience of 800 and raised $10,000 for the Tanglewood 4-H Camp.  Ms. Bornstein’s vision to “harness the power of music to build community and change lives” was formalized in September 2007 when she founded the Midcoast Community Chorus.

The group’s vision statement is a testament to music's transformative power: “When we sing, we change who we are. When we change who we are we change the world.”  MCC is a 140-voice, multi-generational, non-auditioned chorus offering a supportive environment for anyone twelve years and older who wants to sing. “Performing music of hope, healing, transformation and peace from all over the world, singers are given a place to find voice for themselves and give voice to some of the issues of our time.”  The program has grown to include a children’s choir for ages 6-12 and a 50-voice auditioned adult chorale.  MCC provides musical education programs, monthly community sing programs, workshops and film screenings all designed to further support its mission.

Over the years, the group’s June concerts have raised over $75,000 in proceeds that have been donated to non-profits such as Knox County Homeless Coalition, The Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast, Maine Farmland Trust, Five Town Communities That Care, Knox County Health Clinic, AIO Food Pantry, and New Hope for Women. Ms. Bornstein’s commitment to “harnessing the power of music to build community and change lives” is unwavering, and MCC continues to demonstrate the power of the human voice to change the world one song at a time.

Pittsburg Multigenerational Chorus Bringing Together Singers Ages 14 To 89 in Pittsburg, Kansas

Named after Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Pittsburg, Kansas (population approx. 20,000) was settled in 1876 near the border of Missouri.  The city’s primary employer was Pittsburg & Midway Company, a coal mining company created in 1879 that attracted Southern and Eastern European mine workers in the late 19th century.  It is in this rural town that we find the 180- voice Pittsburg Multigenerational Chorus (AKA “Multi-Gen”). 

The chorus, created in 2008 and directed by Pittsburg High School Vocal Music Teacher, Susan Laushman, brings community members into the high school music classroom.  Members from ages 14 to 89 rehearse twice weekly alongside high school students, and the group collaborates with local ensembles like the Pittsburg State University Wind Ensemble and the Southeast Kansas Symphony Orchestra.  This popular ensemble is bringing together fathers and sons, grandmothers, mothers and daughters, alumni, retirees and other citizens of all ages to build a stronger community through choral singing.  “It’s a wonderful opportunity for young people to connect with members of our community, and for some of the retired singers, it’s a great chance to feel involved in high school again,” Laushman said. 



newVoices Bringing Awareness to Community Issues in Northeast Wisconsin

The city of Appleton, situated on the Fox River in Northeast Wisconsin, was settled in 1847 and boasts the nation’s first hydro-electric central station built in 1882.  It is in the Fox Valley that newVoices is charting new territory in the world of choral singing.  Under the direction of Dr. Phillip Swan, the 80 voice chorus strives to “link today’s issues with timeless messages in classical and contemporary choral music” in an effort to “create programming that matters.”  The group’s 4-5 annual concerts “give voice to community issues through collaborative artistic and educational programming with partners such as the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, Fox Valley Memory Project, League of Women Voters, Fox Valley Symphony, Appleton Boychoir, and Lawrence Academy of Music.” 

In October, 2015, the group took on the issue of sex trafficking with a program entitled Facing the Music (the unfamiliar truth about Human Trafficking:  awareness, education, hope).  The group partnered with Fox Cities Sexual Assault Crisis Center and the Sex Trafficking Steering Committee to not only present a choral concert that included songs of power, outrage, hope and healing, but to create opportunities for local residents to understand the issues of prostitution and human trafficking.  The chorus invited the community to read Rachel Lloyd’s Girls Like Us and then organized book discussions at the local library.  They also held panel discussions on sex trafficking in the Fox cities that included representatives from local courts and law enforcement, and they held a pre-concert discussion that presented the scope of the problem in the community.

This is one example of many that highlights the way that newVoices is thinking in meaningful and relevant ways about concert programming.  The group's program was recognized for their dedication to community issues with a national award from Chorus America.  Learn more about the other partnerships they have cultivated and the issues they have addressed with their programming by visiting their website.  The video below highlights their work with Fox Valley Memory Project as part of their community outreach program.

Communities In Harmony Featuring Community Choruses that are Changing the World Around Them

Communities In Harmony began as an idea I had to feature one choir from each of the 50 states that was changing the world around them.  This week, I'll be posting my 20th entry and the stories are transformative.  We still have 30 states to go, but the journey so far is creating a rich narrative of the United States as told through the lens of community choruses.  

Here are some of the most popular posts:

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

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

Refugees in Tacoma Joining Their Voices in Song

Florida State University Chorus and Gadsden Correctional Facility Chorus form FSU-MTC Glee Club-“Balm in Gilead”

Lesbian/Feminist Chorus, Amasong, Transforming Community of Champaign-Urbana, IL

Giving Voice Chorus Celebrates Full Potential of Those Living with Dementia-Minneapolis, MN

303 Choir Inspiring New Voices and Celebrating Diversity of Denver's Music Scene

Cherokee National Youth Choir Preserving Cherokee Language and Culture- Tahlequah, Oklahoma

The Greenville Community Harmony Chorus Promoting Racial Unity in the Mississippi Delta

Thank you to Kent Tritle and Steven Coburn for the following posts:  

Guest Writer, Kent Tritle, Shares His Experience Working With Lighthouse Guild Vocal Ensemble for Visually Impaired in New York City
Guest Blogger, Steven Coburn, Features New York City Labor Chorus

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Missoula Community Chorus A Welcoming Presence in Rural Montana

Montana is ranked 4th in size and 48th in population density out of the 50 states, and Missoula, with a metro area population of 115,000, is the second largest municipality in the state.  It is in this town where 5 mountain ranges converge that the Missoula Community Chorus was founded in 2001 by Jon and Robbin Rose.  In fact, their first rehearsal attracted 125 singers on September 12, 2001, a day after the attacks on the World Trade Center, and their first performance was a week later at Missoula’s Remembrance Service. 

The choir is a non-auditioned group with a mission to inspire community through music.  They explicitly welcome people of all ages, cultural heritages, financial circumstances and musical ability, and they collaborate with other local music and arts groups on various projects throughout the year.  “Being able to share the joy of music making - both in rehearsal and performances - reminds us that we are always better, stronger, and able to accomplish more when we do so together,” says Robbin Rose.  Chorister, Becky D. says, “I never sang in a choir before and I was 51 years old when I joined.  Music was not much in my life and when I found it, it helped me to grieve the death of my son. Now it brings me life. Indescribable!”

The 80 voice chorus premieres new works, most recently a work by local composer, Mike Rosbarsky, and for the past four years they have hosted sold-out community sing-alongs that provide an opportunity for adults and children to watch a movie and sing along with the songs.  Featured movies have included Mama Mia, Frozen, The Sound of Music and Wizard of Oz.  In the past, they have collaborated with instrumentalists from various other community arts organizations like the Missoula Symphony Orchestra and the Missoula Community Concert Band.  In 16 years, the chorus has remarkably strengthened the cultural fabric of Missoula and has created a movement that is distinctly Montanan.

Here's a video of the chamber chorus performing.

Guest Writer, Kent Tritle, Shares His Experience Working With Lighthouse Guild Vocal Ensemble for Visually Impaired in New York City

About Kent Tritle

When Jason Asbury asked if I would like to contribute to this blog about unique community choruses, I enthusiastically said YES and my very first thought was of the Lighthouse Guild Vocal Ensemble. I had just completed a master class with this 25 voice ensemble on February 22nd, , 2017 and the two hours I spent with them was a deeply moving personal experience for me.

This ensemble has been in existence from 1913, which says something about the tenacity of the institution they call home as well as the steady artistic hands at the wheel. For the last 25 years the dynamic, loving and musically divine Dalia Sakas has been their director. She has brought them to their current artistic level, from which since 1997 they culminate their year’s program at no less than the Met Museum. These annual programs at the Met couple music with art, and bring the insight of the visually impaired to the collaborative venture where music and visual art meet. I found it astounding to work with a group of sighted and visually impaired singers committed to enriching their lives and the lives of their audience through this kind of programming.

Logistically, my work with the ensemble was much easier than I may have expected- a combination of sighted people singing from music, sight-challenged people reading from enlarged scores, singers working from braille and extraordinarily attenuated listening skills created one of the most focused workshop situations I have ever experienced.

We were able to experiment with everything from tone production, vocal register nuancing, dynamic shadings, and diction principals to great effect. It was thrilling for me to see these singers delve deeply into new territory, and give themselves over to the ideas and concepts I shared with them. Of course, as a conductor myself, I recognize that the group dynamics existing within this community of singers are a direct reflection on the caring presence of Dalia Sakas and her splendid colleagues at the school. And Dalia in turn made it possible for my interaction to be fluid and seamless.

It was a total joy to experience this very special community of singers. Situated just down the street from Lincoln Center, they are most definitely an important part of what makes choral culture in New York City so special. I highly encourage you to seek them out in concert!

Learn about a performance of Britten's Noye's Fludde by reading a feature story in the NYTimes.

Community Concert Choir of Baltimore Preserving Musical Legacy of the Black Church

African-American choral music grew out of the oral tradition of spirituals that was created by African slaves.  These songs, influenced by Christianity and rooted in African culture, expressed the hardship and hope of African slaves in the United States.  This distinct genre was the antecedent to shouts, the blues, gospel music and other genres.  The tradition has faded in recent times, but the Community Concert Choir of Baltimore was organized “to preserve and promote the sacred music tradition of the African American Church.”

The group of 150 singers was founded by Dr. Marco Merrick and is comprised of individuals from different racial, cultural, ethnic, denominational and economic segments of the Baltimore Metropolitan Area.  In an effort to make their music relevant and accessible, the choir performs free concerts in churches, museums, schools and other public venues.  As part of their outreach program, they “raise funds to benefit community programs that support children, youth, educational and cultural enrichment for under-served segments of the community.”

 “The African American Church tradition has cultivated a broad spectrum of music which our forebears shaped their existence in America ‘a strange land’ and fostered faith through song.  They survived the horrific middle passage of the slave trade and stamped their inimitable legacy in the souls of succeeding generations.  Spirituals inspire each era, spanning slavery, American Revolution, Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow Laws, the Civil Rights movement and the modern day…”  The Community Concert Choir of Baltimore is committed to celebrating the strength and hope that this body of repertoire represents for a new generation.

The Greenville Community Harmony Chorus Promoting Racial Unity in the Mississippi Delta

Greenville, Mississippi (Washington County seat with population 34,000) lies in the Mississippi Delta, a 7,000 square mile alluvial floodplain located between the Mississippi and the Yazoo Rivers.  The city is home to Nelson Street, “once the epicenter of African American business and entertainment in the Delta.”  Greenville has a storied past that reflects the realities of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation. Gene Dattel’s New York Times article published in 2012 gives insight to the complexities of racial identity in more recent times, and the article included a photo of a chorus that is working to break down racial barriers.

The Greenville Community Harmony Chorus is comprised of a diverse group of singers from Greenville, Mississippi and the surrounding area.  The chorus was formed in 1999 as a spinoff of the “Unity Lunch” started by then mayor, Paul Artman, to promote racial unity in the city.  The monthly lunches were held “for people of all ethnicities to come together and discuss and promote important issues in Greenville.” (Delta Democrat-Times-12/4/2016)  The chorus was started by four women as a spinoff of the lunch, and they continue to present an annual Christmas concert and to perform for other community events.  While the legacy of the past lingers, the chorus creates a space for people to build relationships across racial identity.

Guest Blogger, Steven Coburn, Features New York City Labor Chorus

More about Steven Coburn.

New York City has always been central to the labor movement in America, from the early protests and safety reforms resulting from the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, to the recent activism resulting in increased minimum wage and guaranteed paid sick leave passed into law in 2016. So with one of the highest percentages in the country of unionized workers, as well as one of the most economically stratified populations in the country, it is appropriate that the New York City Labor Chorus was founded here in 1991 “for the purpose of bringing the message of workers’ history and struggles for social and economic justice through song to people everywhere.”

This 75 member multi-cultural and generational chorus, directed since 2010 by Jana Ballard, has representation from over 20 local unions and district councils. Their repertoire includes the great classic songs of American protest, labor, and civil rights movements, and spans genres from folk and classical, to gospel, world, and contemporary hits. They will sing anything that promotes and serves the message of the struggles of labor and peoples’ rights. In fact, they even occasionally rewrite the lyrics of choral classics to better reflect their social and political message, as heard here in their updated version of the famous “Hallelujah Chorus.”

It is in the spirit of social unity and political activism that the New York City Labor Chorus brings the power of music to events ranging from local picket lines, parades, and marches to community events at New York City churches, schools, and civic organizations. The chorus also has brought their message to many larger venues including the UN, Carnegie Hall (for the Paul Robeson Centennial), and Madison Square Garden (for Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday), and national events including the DNC Convention, the Woodie Guthrie Centennial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations. They even carried their message as far as Sweden in 1997, Wales in 2008, and Cuba in 2011. The chorus can be heard on their three CDs, all available on their website.

Hats off to Labor- From the chorus's 16th anniversary concert at the Ethical Culture Society auditorium

Workers Rise!- Labor in the spotlight

On the March!- Songs of struggle and inspiration

“Wherever the struggle for people's rights is being waged, the New York City Labor Chorus will be there." 

Here they are singing the famous South African song of freedom “Siyahamba.”

Ambassadors of Harmony® Using A Cappella Singing to Strengthen Community-St. Louis, Missouri

The Ambassadors of Harmony®, a 130 member men’s a cappella chorus, is making a transformative investment in the broader St. Louis community.  While the group has won dozens of national competitions and performed for audiences internationally, their commitment to enriching the lives of their local audiences and to cultivating an appreciation of choral singing among youth in the St. Louis metropolitan area is astonishing.  The chorus, founded in 1963 in St. Charles, MO as the Daniel Boone Chorus, is comprised of a diverse group of men ages 14-90 who “seek to change the lives of audiences worldwide through artistic and emotionally-driven a cappella performances,” according to their website. 

The choir is committed to building relationships among people of different racial, ethnic and socio-economic identities.  Each fall, AOH partners with University of Missouri-St. Louis, to sponsor Acappellooza Fall, an a cappella singing experience that attracts more than 1,000 high school students from the St. Louis area, and to sponsor a four-day Accappellooza Summer Camp.  They also sponsor “Project Harmony,” a year-long program in local schools, and AcaFest, a one-night festival co-sponsored by Missouri Baptist University.  In addition, AOH awards a $1,000 college scholarship to a high school senior annually.  

AOH has clearly demonstrated a strong commitment to musical excellence, while using the art of choral singing to build a stronger community.