Local choir addresses oppression by being a 'voice for the voiceless'
With the slogan "voices for the voiceless" as their rallying cry, a new Calgary choir known as Harmony Through Harmony is like no other.
The choir, which is also a non-profit organization, promotes social justice through song – raising both funds and awareness for certain causes – while at the same time developing the leadership skills of its members.
Beth McLean Wiest, long-time choral performer and teacher and executive director of Harmony Through Harmony, said she noticed "a real shift" in why people were joining choirs.
"New participants were eager to become stars, increasing the competition and back-fighting, especially around solos. It concerned me a lot."
The selfish environment invading the choral scene got McLean Wiest asking herself "how to counteract the American Idol, 'It's all about me'" fame culture that we live in.
"One day I was on the treadmill and thought, maybe there's a way of using music and justice and education to develop leaders all at the same time," she said.
A year later, in 2009, Harmony Through Harmony was formed with other like-minded people, including McLean Wiest's husband, Reid, and well-known local choir directors Torrence Airhart and Becky Timmons.
Before long, the group had grown to 16 members.
Unlike other social justice organizations, Harmony Through Harmony hopes only to educate the unaware through its concerts, and then donates funds raised to organizations around the world.
"For me, Harmony Through Harmony is a musical outlet and a place where I am pushed to be more of a leader, and helps me learn so much about the world," said soprano Aly Bueckert, 19.
"We do awareness concerts and in each concert we pick one issue to bring awareness to."
For preschool teacher Stacey Lee, 24, being part of the organization means "being a voice for the voiceless: being a voice for those children who can't speak for themselves."
Typical Harmony Through Harmony meetings consist of a shared meal, music rehearsal and group study and discussion about issues such as child labour or human trafficking.
Ben Roth, 19, who joined the choir last year, said opinions vary between choir members on the issues discussed.
"We don't take on an issue as if we were planning to fix it. Our goal is to make people aware that there is a problem," he said. "We're kind of the middle man between the organizations creating change and the funds they are lacking to create the change."
These discussions and debates contribute to the leadership aspect of the group.
a month-long trip to South Africa, which took place in August, where members worked with children and youth and experienced first-hand some of the issues they had been discussing for the past year. They were also able to encounter organizations doing good work and donate funds raised prior to the trip.They're also fresh off
"Going to South Africa has really changed my life personally," Lee said.
"I'd like to go back to school for social work so that I can eventually open up a centre for those children who have been exploited," she added.
While most members of the choir are musically inclined, the group tries to be as inclusive as possible.
"We invite anyone who is interested in the group to come and check us out," said Roth.
"People can join us for dinner. That way they can be part of the community, part of the discussions and experience the atmosphere of the choir."
However, the group is vigilant about keeping that so-called American Idol culture out of reach.
"Do prospective members demonstrate initiative? Is there humility? Can they leave their ego at the door? Do they have a passion for serving others?" McLean Wiest explained regarding questions she asks herself about potential choir members.
The newly formed organization has big goals, said McLean Wiest.
"Our board's vision is to have Harmony Through Harmony ensembles worldwide. In the next five years we'd like to launch one new ensemble locally, nationally, and internationally.
"Now that we're back from South Africa the real journey begins. We were all changed, and so the new normal has begun for us. We need to look at the seeds that were planted and see which ones will grow."
The group has had offers to perform in Cambodia, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Ghana, and the United States, McLean Wiest added.
Since its formation, Harmony Through Harmony has raised $55,000 through awareness concerts working with organizations such as Opportunity International, Servants Anonymous Society, and International Justice Mission. Additionally, it raised more than $140,000 for its recent trip to South Africa.
Harmony Through Harmony is holding a concert Nov. 4 at Renfrew Baptist Church at 7:30 p.m.