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Can you hear ... a life being changed?

Kids surprise you. That’s become a recurring theme working this year with the one-hundred-plus singers in our after-school choirs. I’ve been surprised by their dedication and passion, their humor and creativity, their naïveté and earnestness.

Before our spring concert last week, I admit I was worried. Had I set the bar too high for these students? In addition to each choir’s performance repertoire, I was preparing five combined songs with them, four of which they had to sing while moving. The songs included many foreign languages, too: Yoruba, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Xhosa. With such limited rehearsal time, could we pull it all off at a high musical standard?

In the midst of my preoccupation with trivial matters like how many minutes of rehearsal I would need for each song, I was reminded of how deeply these musical experiences affect the students. I was given a new perspective on what preparing this concert was really about. It came while teaching one group of kids the final song in the program, Jim Papoulis’ Can You Hear. The words of the refrain are:

Can you hear my cries?

Can you see my eyes?

I am calling out to you.

Several of the students burst into tears and could not sing the passage. Some covered their ears—the words elicited a visceral response; who knows what experiences prompted such an emotional reaction? Many of them are from rough and low-income neighborhoods, and I can only imagine at what their life experiences have been. I wondered whether the song was in fact appropriate for these kids?

But music heals. It was hard to see the change occur in real time, but the words of the song were planted inside them, and something shifted in the kids. By the time of the concert, they had started to sing. They had taken ownership of the words, and were empowered by their sentiment. Witnessing those young singers belting out the song at the end of our concert was one of my favorite moments this entire year of making music with Cantare. It was the embodiment of our mission to empower underserved youth through the beauty and power of choral music. The kids had grown stronger, they had conquered whatever had haunted them, and they sang out with passion, strength, and fearlessness.

Was it a flawless musical performance? No. It was better—it changed lives.

Check it out.

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