There are several common things that people normally associate with choirs: singing. Music. Beauty, maybe, or those robes that some choirs wear. But you wouldn’t associate choir with words like cancer. Miscarriage. Suicide. Heavy words, words that feel so big and terrible that it seems impossible that something like a choir could handle them.
We tend to think of singing as something relatively light. Soothing. A “nice to have”. But I know better.
And so do the members of Sing Portland! For them, choir isn’t just some mildly pleasant thing they do, it’s a very genuine lifesaver. Let me tell you about Yemaja Assesu.
A Sing Portland! member recently wrote to me with this beautiful story: five months into her pregnancy, her beloved daughter River died before she was born. Devastated by the miscarriage but determined to try something new, she joined us for a rehearsal a few months later. While she was there, we learned a new song together called Yemaja Assesu. The words aren’t in English, so she didn’t know what they meant, but somehow, as the layered voices washed over her, she felt River’s presence in her body. It wasn’t sadness, or nostalgia, but instead, it was pure joy, a connection that she felt from her spirit to River’s.
After the song finished, I explained to her the meaning of the lyrics, and how the song is associated with the Yoruban goddess mother of all things, and it’s a celebration of where the river meets the ocean. In the singer’s own words,
“I don’t know why my body could understand the meaning of the song before it had been explained in words, that it is about motherhood and loss and strength. But my body knew.”
That’s the power of the perfect song — it instructs beyond words.
Then there’s another singer who was recently diagnosed with cancer. She was, understandably, feeling overwhelmed by her diagnosis, but she came to sing with us anyway. That night we sang the rousing Do You Hear the People Sing from Les Mis, and afterwards, she told me that she felt totally different. Energized, triumphant, hopeful!
And these two are just a tiny taste of the amazing people who have found some light during dark times through singing.
That’s why I choose the songs I do: because I know just what they can really mean to people.
From happy to deep to silly to serious, I take great care in the songs I choose to teach at Sing Portland! The music is always interesting, beautiful, or fun, and the lyrics are inspiring, thought provoking, and uplifting. I never choose a song just because it’s cute or good; the message matters!
When we sing together, we heal. We grow. We love.
And that’s the true power of music. It’s not a nice to have; it’s a lifeline for the soul. And I really want that for you. So please know that you are welcome here, no matter what. Even if things aren’t going all that well right now. Even if you’re not sure it’s for you. Especially if you’re “not a singer”.