As a member of Windy City Performing Arts all-inclusive women’s choir, Aria, I was able to attend the GALA Festival this month in Denver, CO — an event held every four years by the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses to support LGBT choruses around the world. As their mission statement proclaims, as member choruses, we believe “in the power of music to change lives. That there is unity in diversity, that the diversity of our associates strengthens us all, and that all people are welcome to the stage. That we can sing together with respect and understanding, and in so doing, we offer community, hope, inspiration and healing….” While I was beyond stoked for my own choir’s performance in the most breathtaking concert hall I had ever performed in, I had no idea how deeply I was going to experience each of the points of that mission statement by week’s end.
It’s almost hard to explain, if you’re not a music person. Some of my non-music friends don’t quite understand the experience when I try to describe what it’s like to sit in a packed concert hall and see a performance that moves you to tears — that plucks at your heart strings and stirs your soul; that fills you with joy, or sadness, or pride, or longing….and suddenly you are experiencing Spirit. And all at once you feel connected to every other person in the room. I saw dozens of such performances in just a few short days at the festival.
The gay and lesbian choral movement began with lesbian choirs raising their voices with feminist songs that empowered women in the 70s…and grew quickly from there. Over 200 choral performances took place in Denver with over 6500 singers, each expressing the struggles, the pride, the diversity, the heartache, the joy, the beauty and the hope of our community. It was truly inspiring. Right on the heels of my own choir’s stellar performance, a group of us took to the streets of downtown Denver for a flash mob style performance, and as I looked around the faces of the onlookers — cops, Muslim women with their children, homeless teens, city shoppers, an elderly woman pushing a wheelchair who began to sing the words to our song — I saw the shining face of God in each of them, and it was a truly beautiful moment that, again, brought me to the brink of tears. I will carry that with me forever.
As we sang the words to a song called ‘Thankful,’ by Rollo Dilworth, the message became real on those city streets:
Some days we forget to look around us, some days we forget the joy that surrounds us.
So caught up inside ourselves, we take when we should give.
So for tonight, we pray for what we know can be,
and on this day we hope for what we still can’t see.
It’s up to us, to be the change —
and even though this world needs so much more,
there’s so much to be thankful for.
I’m thankful that I was able to witness and experience the healing and transformative power of music within our community, on the city streets, and within myself.
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Valency was born in San Francisco to hippie parents, but is a Chicago girl through and through. Ten years of Catholic school helped her develop a finely-tuned bullshit detector, as well as a love of all sorts of Catholic kitsch. Valency isn't fond of labels. She is, however, fond of embracing her many paradoxes, and walking the fine lines between religion and politics, with an eye turned toward postmodern religion, feminist theology, and challenging patriarchy from inside religious institutions. She lives on the northside with her two daughters and two female cats, and is always looking for more ways increase the estrogen in her household.