Sing, sing a song
Community chorus grows church, social justice awareness
What better way is there to learn about the world and help those in need than by doing what we love?
Global Harmony Community Chorus was originally put together for a series of concerts in February 2005 to raise money in the wake of the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in 2004, said Jennifer Anderson, the church’s director of music ministry and the director of the chorus.
“One thing we like to do at North Como is music, and we wanted to do something to help, so we invited other local musicians and groups to join us,” Anderson said.
The church managed to organize 60 singers and a few local groups in just six weeks.
“It is not often that people find a way to employ a personal passion and extend help to others at the same time.But that is precisely what has happened with the establishment of the Global Harmony Community Chorus,” said Chaz Ruark, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area.
Anderson said the church was pleasantly surprised by the concerts’ outcome. About 450 people attended those first concerts, which raised nearly $15,000. The organizers weren’t sure if the success was a one-time response to the enormous media attention to the tsunami, but they decided to prepare more concerts for the next year.
But they needn’t have worried.
“We did it again and this time we got 75 singers,” Anderson said. “It’s just continued to grow every year. Now we have 125 singers in the choir and I’ve had to actually cut it off. I have a waiting list. We’ve also raised about $86,000 combined over the years that we’ve done them.”
The concerts have also grown in attendance. In 2009, about 700 people came to the three shows.
The chorus has grown far beyond the North Como church, both in audience attendance and the musicians. The group is now interfaith with, many coming from outside the church.
“This is truly a community chorus,” Anderson said.
The focus of the program has also changed. While the first concerts concentrated on the tsunami, organizers select different global justice causes every year. Past concerts have raised money for Israel, Africa and Central America.
This year, Global Harmony is trying something a bit more local, with proceeds going to Neighborhood House, which helps refugees, immigrants and low-income people in St. Paul.
“It’s about more than just raising money — it’s also about educating ourselves to the world around us,” Anderson said.
As the chorus prepares, members learn about the places and organizations they’re singing to help. That knowledge is then passed on to the audience through the shows, which use music and instruments that reflect the culture of the chosen cause.
For example, the concerts for Central America used a sing with Mayan text and instruments.
“It’s fun, and I think that contributes to our success,” Anderson said. “We do music from mostly living composers and we do things in different styles and different languages.”
Some of those living composers have even been guests at the concerts. Each year, a composer is invited to the concerts, and the chorus sings some of his or her pieces. It’s great for the singers to make a connection to a real person instead of just a name on paper, and in many cases, the composers added a unique element noticed even by those who don’t sing, Anderson said.
The non-singers at North Como also do their share to make the shows a success. Member Manly Olson, who doesn’t sing in the chorus, said plenty of members volunteer with registration, food, cleanup, ticket sales and receptions.
The concerts the Global Harmony Community Chorus have helped North Como grow, Olson said.
“One of our new elders first came here as part of the choir,” he said. “We’ve gotten at least three new members, and some people come back after the concerts as visitors. The more times you get people in the church, the more likely they are to come and stay.”
This year’s focus on a local cause means more people from the area will be involved in the program, and Olson said he expects a good turnout.
“The staff and membership are commended for their passion to sing and their desire to serve humanity. May this ministry continue to offer hope and help to people around the world for years to come,” Ruark said.
This year’s concerts are scheduled for Feb. 6 and 7.
Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she also serves as church secretary for First Presbyterian Church.