Singing Out for SafeHouse
Preview by Betsy Schwarm
Music has often set out to support and promote social causes. Even before recent and current pop stars began undertaking such endeavors, Bedřich Smetana was speaking up for Czech nationalism, and it is no accident that Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro explores the divide between aristocrats and those who serve them. So when, in 2013, Leah Peer decided to form a women’s chorus as a subset of the Colorado Hebrew Chorale, part of her plan was grounded in a self-stated wish to “connect to something deeper.”
Peer named her chorus “Kol Nashim,” Hebrew for “Women’s Voice.” Currently numbering about twenty members, the ensemble is an amateur, non-auditioned group. That fact may place boundaries upon the repertoire Peer chooses for her singers, but not upon her broader vision. Perhaps one cannot make the whole world a better place through song, but Peer believes strongly that one can certainly help small corners of it at a time.
She calls it “a community of women supporting women’s issues,” an idea that comes to the fore Sunday, March 19, in a concert in support of SafeHouse, the Denver-area women’s and children’s resource center. For the event, Peer’s chorus will collaborate with two other women’s choruses: the Fourteeners girls’ chorus from the Rocky Mountain Children’s Choir and also the women’s choir Impromptu. Together, they account for 92 women and girls of all ages. Each of the groups has been preparing a set of pieces for the program, though the program will close with all of them together giving the world premiere of a work written especially for the event by Denver composer Mercedes Campaña. Few amateur ensembles take on the challenge of commissioning new music, but having a completely new offering is a measure of the project’s serious ambition. Moreover, it expands the idea of women’s issues one step further by including a female composer.
The event has been timed to coordinate with International Women’s Day (March 8) and its theme of “Be Bold for Change.” That fact, and the fact that all the performers are women, might lead some observers to imagine that only women are invited to attend the program. Peer, however, emphasizes that men and boys, too, are not only welcome, but are urged to come. “All of us know, or have known, some woman who at some point has needed refuge or encouragement in a difficult time. We probably won’t raise world-changing amounts of money through ticket sales, but raising awareness is a major step.” Besides, she adds, the music itself is an enticement.
Peer’s own Kol Nashim ensemble will present a set of lullaby-like pieces, including the old Yiddish songs Rozhinkes mit Mandeln and Dona Dona. The first of those offers a mother’s vision of a good future for her baby; the second – which became widely familiar when Joan Baez included it in her repertoire – sets in counterpoint images of a lamb led to slaughter and a swallow flying free. To these, Peer has added the late 20th century song Layla Tov (Good Night). She notes that each segment of the program will include spoken remarks from the stage so as to put the music in context for all listeners.
Coordinating three different ensembles for a single concert might, in some situations, be challenging; divergent groups might find themselves challenging one another for a larger portion of the spotlight. Peer, however, has experienced no such challenges. That the other two choirs are both under the leadership of the same director, Leslie Britton, may have helped, but even more crucial has been that Britton and Peer, in Peer’s words “are on the same wavelength.” Both appreciate the importance of the cause, and both are accustomed to working with amateur women’s ensembles. Just because the music itself may stop short of virtuosic challenges does not prevent the directors from emphasizing quality of presentation.
The SafeHouse benefit concert will be Sunday, March 19, starting at 4pm, at the Hebrew Educational Alliance, 3600 South Ivanhoe, near the southwest corner of Hampden and I-25. Tickets are priced at $18 per person; those who wish are invited to make an additional donation to the cause. 100% of box office receipts will go to SafeHouse. Advance tickets are available through EventBrite – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wing-out-for-safehouse-tickets-27053461632 – though tickets will also be available at the door.
Women singing in support of a support organization for women and children: Felix Mendelssohn, who had been encouraged by his own father to use his musical gifts and family resources to benefit the less fortunate, would be genuinely proud of them. Were he here today, he would be one of the first in line for the event. Not only is it an important opportunity, but also an enjoyable one.