As the Artistic Director of Cantare Con Vivo, non-profit choral organization in Oakland, CA that works with over 2,500 inner city children and 125 adults every week in various choirs. At Cantare, our mission is to remove various barriers that keep some people of all ages from experiencing the power and beauty of choral singing. At the same time, our vision supersedes our mission as we strive to “Inspire people to live in harmony, treating one other with dignity.” I was profoundly moved when watching this TEDx talk as it demonstrates through song the deep pain created by very real barriers while challenging all of us to step forward and do what we must in order to treat one another as family.
This TEDx event is certainly one of the most profound personal expressions of the power of the human spirit through the medium of music. These ten women offer us a gift through their singing that has provided a vehicle with which to transmit their painful understanding. And in my freely accepting their gift through music, I am profoundly moved by their sincerity in expressing their regrets and fears. I am also saddened to see how dehumanizing our prison system continues be to those who have learned the harsh lessons that life can teach us, remaining incarcerated and reduced to simply a number. Yet, at this special moment, singing together provides them the means necessary to join in expressing several shared themes: they have individual names; they are defined by relationships to others, and, lastly, that this Pennsylvania prison is fundamentally not their home.
As a musician, it is striking to again witness the expressive power that resides in the language of music. But, more importantly, we must allow ourselves to hear the message, not getting lost in melody, harmony and rhythm. Music is a means, not an end. As with these dear and holy women, I also believe that I am not fundamentally “at home” in those pockets of society that profess the dehumanization and devaluing of others because of nationality, skin color, or religious belief. I am not “at home” where it is acceptable to allow adults and children to go hungry and even die from malnutrition when there is more than enough food for everyone to live. I am not “at home” where oppression and injustice dominates the lives and souls of brothers and sisters in my community, my country, our world. Nor am I “at home” where apathy and fear are motivational factors in determining our acceptance of the status quo. This is but a partial list.
“Home” at its best is a place that is safe and secure, where understanding, acceptance, compassion and love are visible trademarks. It is also inclusive of far more than my nuclear family. It extends to all whose backgrounds and experiences while different than mine, walk alongside me as I do with them.
“Inspiring people to live in harmony, treating one other with dignity.” That is what we hope to achieve. That is a high watermark, as it should be. When I hear these powerful testimonials that engage both spirit and soul with individual life circumstances of these sisters, my sisters, I am not only deeply moved, but also changed and now challenged to act. I will write a letter to the correctional facility and Governor of Pennsylvania in hopes of having those with authority strive to treat one other with dignity so we can live in harmony. Maybe you will join me, if you share our vision.
And, for me, this particular challenge all started with a song…