Choral Field Embraces the Democratic Process

As this article is published, votes are still being counted in the 2020 United States general election - though for months now, the choral field has been using the power of our art to encourage the public to make their voices heard in this much-anticipated event. Our Chorus Impact Study has consistently found that choristers exhibit remarkably high levels of civic leadership, and the projects of these choruses and composers certainly live up to those research findings.

Brooklyn Youth Chorus - "Take Care of This House"

In honor of National Voter Registration Day on September 22, members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus (BYC) contributed to a video of Leonard Bernstein’s “Take Care of This House” (from the musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), produced by pianist and activist Lara Downes to raise awareness of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. The collaboration featured a diverse and dizzying array of leading American artists, including Judy Collins, Anthony McGill, Yo-Yo Ma, and more. BYC wasn’t finished just yet, however; on the first day of early voting in New York State the chorus hosted “Voice the Vote,” a panel discussion highlighting the perspectives of several chorus members and young alumni on the importance of voting, moderated by NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman.

Nolan Williams Jr. - “I Have a Right to Vote”

Nolan Williams Jr. brought together a star-studded cast of narrators and groups of distanced singers in various locales arounds the country for his voting rights anthem and music video “I Have a Right to Vote,” created to raise awareness around voter suppression, encourage voter education and registration, and increase voter motivation leading up to the national election. Composed and directed by Williams, the video for “I Have a Right to Vote” weaves in historic footage of the Civil Rights Movement and the words of voting rights icons spoken by celebrities including Billie Jean King and Billy Porter. Singers appear in front of many iconic landmarks, such as the “Rocky Steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles.

The Crossing - The Crossing Votes: 2020

The Crossing, based in Philadelphia, embarked on a project called The Crossing Votes: 2020—a series of four short films, all addressing issues in the national discourse leading up to Election Day. The films, released sequentially the week before the election (each at 5:38 a.m., signifying the U.S.’s 538 electoral votes), featured four compositions: “stateless” by David Lang, “she took his hands” by Nicholas Cline, “Democracy” by Robert Maggio, and “Shift” by Ayanna Woods.

Lisa Bielawa - Voters’ Broadcast

With the hope of stimulating voter engagement, political awareness, and community participation amid a time of isolation, composer Lisa Bielawa conceived, directed, and composed Voters’ Broadcast, an 18-minute work for choral and instrumental ensemble with an unlimited number of voices and instrumentalists. The text of the work was taken from artist Sheryl Oring’s project I Wish to Say, which since 2004 has encouraged members of the public to dictate postcards to the next U.S. president. Messages are dictated to typists who write the messages with vintage typewriters. Voters’ Broadcast was premiered in three virtual events on September 30, October 14, and October 28, co-presented by the University of Michigan and Kaufman Music Center in New York—and the work was also given a live outdoor premiere co-presented by Kaufman and the Brooklyn Public Library.

Commonwealth Youthchoirs - Democratic National Convention

Commonwealth Youthchoirs of Philadelphia opened the first-ever virtual Democratic National Convention with a virtual choir rendition of the national anthem that aired nationwide on primetime television. Comprising singers from its four ensembles—Keystone State Boychoir, Pennsylvania Girlchoir, New Jersey Boychoir, and Garden State Girlchoir—the organization put together a diverse 57-member chorus with one person representing a tie to each U.S. state, district, or territory.