Beth McLean Wiest has a passion for social justice, and addresses it not with rallies and campaigns, but instead with music. Her goal is to spread her mission across the world.
Wiest, whose parents have been involved in international development since she was five, has been to over 30 countries in her life.
“I just grew up with the awareness that there’s a world that we’re called to respond to beyond our four walls,” Wiest says.
Her first international trip was to Guatemala when Wiest was 11 and after that initial exposure to world travel, she started travelling on her own when she was 18.
Wiest says that she helped out wherever she could. She also saw these trips as an opportunity to learn more about the cultures and people that North Americans don’t usually encounter.
On her travels, Wiest developed a passion for fighting on behalf of the abused and the downtrodden.
“The majority of the countries I’ve been to have been second or third world developing countries, and it’s impossible to escape the abuse of power in those countries and you just see this striking disparity, which is here as well, it’s just masked.”
In particular, Wiest finds the abuse of power deeply concerning. She believes it came out of her own respect for the role of a leader and seeing how many people take advantage of that role.
“There’s that spectrum, you know? It can be done poorly, it can be done well, or it can be oppressive,” she explains.
Once she became aware of this abuse of power, Wiest decided to do something about it. But instead of protest signs and marches, she chose to use a very specific method of spreading the word: music.
Wiest, being a piano player since she was four, has always had a love of music. It was only after unintentionally telling her mother about her interest in singing did Wiest begin to sing when she was 13.
“My mom found out that I wanted to sing because I was talking to a lady on the beach in French and she was eavesdropping!” Wiest recalls with a chuckle.
After Wiest started to sing, she was hooked. With this always in the back of her mind, Wiest ended up changing her focus in university from piano to singing.
After working as a choir director for almost two decades, Wiest blended her long time passion for music with her desire to work for the pursuit of social justice and formed the choir Harmony Through Harmony (stylized as HtH) with her husband Reid and two others. She believes that music is the perfect platform on which to communicate their message.
“There’s something mysterious about music that tears down walls and communicates spirit to spirit, beyond our language, our mother tongue.”
Today, HtH is a collection of adults, ranging from high school graduates to being well into their careers, that come together to perform, raising awareness and funds for multiple organizations that are nationally and internationally fighting against social injustice. These organizations include, but aren’t limited to, International Justice Mission, Compassion International, Next Step Ministries and Street Level. “There’s something mysterious about music that tears down walls and communicates spirit to spirit, beyond our language, our mother tongue.”- Beth McLean Wiest
Wiest’s husband Reid says that HtH not only benefits the organizations and causes receiving their support, but also benefits the choir.
“There’s a real feedback of ‘I love being part of something where it’s not just all about me, I get personal benefits but I also feel like I’m helping to make the broader community, the broader world a better place by educating others.’”
Since its inception, HtH has narrowed its focus to addressing issues of international sexual exploitation. Tim Ocampo, a post-secondary student, has been a member of HtH since September of 2016. He believes that their message is one to be respected and heard.
“I think the whole idea of Harmony Through Harmony dealing with a topic like sex trafficking is pretty hard hitting. It would be disrespectful to be artificial about what’s going on in the world,” Ocampo says.
Wiest uses HtH as an opportunity to develop leadership in the young adults that participate. This is something of a continuation of her work with the Youth Singers of Calgary, where she developed a course for the Calgary Board of Education that was focused on making the performing arts and leadership training work in tandem.
Kelly Guenter’s experience is just one example of a leader that was mentored through HtH. Guenter has been a member for five years and describes the transformation she’s seen in herself.
“I started out just being a friend of people in the choir, and coming because I wanted leadership development, and my experience is that has definitely been fulfilled…I’ve been given leadership opportunity within the choir, and it’s also equipped me to be a leader in other areas as well.”
Moving forward, Wiest has big plans for HtH.
“We’ve just gone through an extensive strategic planning process… The end result of that was a revision of our vision and mission statements, and our five-year goal is to have another ensemble in Alberta, in another province, and in another country. So that’s pretty audacious!”
Editor: Amber McLinden | firstname.lastname@example.org