Something to sing about

Danette Dooley
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From left, Cathy Gill, Ray Jordan and Virginia King are members of the Stella Burry Inclusion Choir. - Photo by Danette Dooley/Special to The Telegram

Members of the Stella Burry Inclusion Choir spent more than an hour Wednesday afternoon practicing for their biggest performance since the group formed almost four years ago.

The choir has been invited to participate in this year's Festival 500 and will be on stage at MUN's D.F. Cook recital hall this morning.

The songs they'll sing contain messages that resonate with each choir member.

During Wednesday's practice, the men and women sang with confidence and conviction as they belted out "Try a Little Kindness," a song written by Bobby Austin and Curt Sapaugh and recorded by Glen Campbell.

"You've got to try a little kindness

Yes show a little kindness

Just shine your light for everyone to see

And if you try a little kindness

Then you'll overlook the blindness

Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets"

In another song they sang about conquering their past and facing their future - something most choir members are striving to do with support from Stella Burry Community Services (SBCS).

The St. John's-based social services agency supports adults and youth who have experienced challenges in their lives such as mental illness, addictions, abuse and low literacy levels.

The organization provides its clients with affordable housing, training and skills development and educational and employment opportunities.

Staff also counsel people reintegrating into the community after spending time in hospitals and prisons.

There are about 40 members in the choir, most of whom are SBCS clients. Some staff and volunteers are also choir members.

Rob McLennan is the manager of social enterprise with SBCS.

A social worker who understands the role music can play in people's health and well-being, McLennan helped launch the choir and participates in practices and performances under the direction of volunteer choir director Helen Murphy.

The choir provides SBCS clients with a chance to express themselves through music, McLennan said.

"A difficult life and lots of challenges can sometimes prevent you from having an opportunity to do the normal things lots of us take for granted," he said.

Choir members are valued as individuals but put forth a stronger voice collectively as they sing about building more affordable housing units, feeding hungry people and helping one another.

Their performance this morning is part of Festival 500's Phenomenon of Singing International Symposium. The symposium is presented by Festival 500 and Memorial University. In addition to the choral performance, McLennan and Murphy will also give a presentation about the choir.

However, McLennan said the highlight of the session will be the singers and their social justice messages.

"The medium is the message and this choir can far better present that message through their singing than anyone around them," he said.

As a community choir, the men and women also deliver their messages at conferences and annual general meetings where policy makers are in the audience.

"This is a way for people who don't always have an opportunity to speak to people in power and decision makers, to get their voices heard," McLennan said.

Virginia King has completed several programs with SBCS. She plays guitar in the choir.

"This is a place to come where I can share my music with others. It's a good way for me to get out and learn from people and they learn from me," she said.

Ray Jordan lives at Carew Lodge - a SBCS affordable housing project in the centre of the city.

Jordan has completed the organization's New Beginnings employment preparation and skills training program and will begin a six-month cooking program at SBCS Hungry Heart Cafe in September.

Although he's never sung in a choir, Jordan enjoys singing songs with important messages.

"I'm trying to do good for myself with a lot of help from the people with Stella Burry," he said.

Cathy Gill has been a client of SBCS for almost four years.

Participating in the choir is an opportunity to reach out to others, she said.

"We're giving as much to the community as we get back when we perform. When you're feeling down in the dumps you feel a lot better when you give to others," Gill said.

Admission to this morning's symposium, which starts at 9:30 a.m., is $15. Students and seniors can attend for $10.


Organizations: Stella Burry Community Services, New Beginnings

Geographic location: Glen Campbell, St. John's, Jordan

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