Suze Diaz — Escondido, CA …October’s First Wednesdays Concert Series at the California Center for the Arts Escondido’s 2018-2019 Season featured a unique singing group lending a positive voice for the city’s homeless. Founded in 2016 by award winning San Diego musicians Steph Johnson and Nina Deering, “Voice of Our City Choir” is a 501 (c)(3) organization dedicated to bringing awareness; transforming the perception and experience of the homeless through the healing power of the arts. The choir serves as a safe space for its members and provides a sensation of community between those facing extreme hardships; offering a powerful platform through open rehearsals and performances.
“Voices of Our City” offers assistance to members with clothing, food, transportation, health services, songwriting/guitar classes, housing and more with the help of donors, volunteers and the money they raise from their live performances. In a short period of time, the choir has helped more than 31 of their unsheltered singers to secure safe housing and/or shelter. Operation Manager John Brady was one of the first members into the group and gave testimony of the help that the choir has personally given
The story of the choir is featured in a documentary film “The Homeless Chorus Speaks” by noted filmmaker, Susan Polis Schutz, which aired on PBS early 2018. It showcases that the homeless are like all of us in that they have abilities and potential, dreams and aspirations and look to singing and dance as a way to
help cope with the realities they live with. Fourteen members of the choir are interviewed and they tell their stories of how they found themselves in their circumstances and their viewpoint of the solution to the homeless problem. The choir has been instrumental in giving them hope with a chance for peace and healing with the friendships they have found. The film puts a more human face on the homeless crisis and gives distinct insight to what it is like to live on the streets as well as how easily someone could find themselves in a similar situation. A short-clip preview of the film is featured on the “Voices of Our City Choir” website.
An excellent four-piece band accompanied the energetic 21-member choir. The band, led by jazz bassist Rob Thorsen, executed each song with a great bass line along with a tight rhythm guitar, drums and keyboards corresponding in harmony. Singing with conviction of the heart with warm-hearted smiles, the choir started their set with The Five Stairstep’s “Oooh Child (Things are Gonna Get Easier)”; continuing to belting out more positive tunes such as Eric Clapton’s “Change the World”, Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”, and Bill Wither’s “Lean On Me”. The choir’s interaction with the good-sized audience in attendance fostered a sensation of unity during the performance. With
patrons standing, dancing and clapping during a rousing version of McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now”, a closeness of community family could be felt throughout the hall. After singing Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, a thought-provoking poetry reading recital of “Where Is The Love?” expressed the many facets of what love is and that this world won’t make it without the love of all humanity.
The uplifting encouragement of song and dance on stage and in the audience helped end the evening on a joyful high note with the expression of solidarity anthem, Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”. The call of “have faith in you and the things you do” lends meaning that together we can find a solution to end the crisis giving many people a lot of faith and hope.
For more information about “The Homeless Chorus Speaks” film by filmmaker Susan Polis Schutz, please visit http://www.ironzealfilms.org/homeless/
For more information on how to offer support by being a donor, volunteer or choir participant, please visit https://www.voicesofourcity.org/
For calendar schedule of all the free First Wednesdays at the California Center for the Arts Escondido, please call the Box Office at 800-988-4253 or visit the website at http://artcenter.org/
Photos By Suze Diaz