The emotion in the room was palpable.

As we sang the finale of Les Miserable to a room of people still shellshocked from the terrible killings on the MAX train (many in the group were friends and family of the victims), there were tears as we remembered those we lost through the stirring words of the song: “Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise!”

Silence.

A singer shared that one of the victims of the killings, Taliesin Myrddin Mankai-Meche spoke the last words “I want everyone on the train to know I love them.”

The grief-stricken love in the room swelled, became so all-absorbing that you could have reached out and touched it, pulsing with the pain of broken hearts and the joy of loved ones remembered.

And I knew that the program we had spend weeks carefully preparing for was out the window. The moment called for something else, something healing. And music, being the incredible healer that it is, came through for us.

Instead of the complicated, technically beautiful songs we had prepared, we slowly, delicately holding space for each other’s raw hearts, held hands and started singing Sara Thomsen’s Holy Angels.

“You are held by holy angels. Holy angels, all around you.”

By this time most of the room was holding hands. One of Taliesin’s best friends happened to be in the audience; his mother is one of our singers. As we comforted each other we became one big choir hug.

And then something truly incredible happened.

We grieved together — and through it, we healed. As we sang out the heartbreak, something shifted. Soon we were singing the triumphant Someday We’ll Meet:

Someday we’ll meet

10 million miles away

Someday we’ll meet

In a land that’s rich and green

Someday we’ll meet

In a land of plenty

And we’ll rise up on high

In our song!”

The sun was rising again in our hearts, so much so that we were able to end with the powerful Helele Mama, a song that’s been used again and again in the darkest of circumstances in South Africa to heal and connect.

It was absolutely unexpected — and it was perfect.

I started Sing Portland! to bring people together, to allow them to get in touch with their true emotions, and to reconnect with their true selves. We started out with incredibly simple songs, quickies you can pick up in a chorus or two. But as the choir developed we were able to sing longer, more complicated songs. We had grown from simple but powerful songs that are just a few measure long and that we arrange in the moment, to memorizing songs that are 10-plus pages (and learned them all by ear!)

There’s nothing wrong with that. But this evening brought the beauty of the simple home to me again.

That’s the magic of music.

It flows, fits into the changing circumstances of our lives, and fills the needs we have at any given time. That evening, it was the simple songs that truly built our community, allowed us to grieve together and support each other, and to rise up on high in our song.

That’s what we’re all about. And that’s what we’ll keep doing, no matter what: no matter the circumstances, good or bad, we’re going to be here, singing our hearts out, because we know that’s how we heal, connect, and live.

We’d love for you to join us as we start a special summer term of powerful, inspiring African songs. Click here to find out how and when you can sing with Sing Portland!