By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor
SDWC to share the messages of Grammy Award-winner
For the past two years, thanks in part to the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation (SDHDF), the San Diego Women’s Chorus (SDWC) has performed on the historic Balboa Theatre stage in the spring, each time with a featured — and iconic — female lead; and this year is no exception.
On May 22, the 85-strong SDWC welcomes Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Janis Ian to the stage with them for their “UPRISING: Songs of Change.”
“The San Diego Women’s Chorus is all about the power of music and the power of women,” stated Heather Robert, SDWC board president, in a press release. “Our music is our activism and this concert is a tribute to the activists of the past and an appeal to the activist impulse of the present. Our hope is that, after the audience listens to these songs about women and men from history who fought for freedom, equality, and dignity, they will be moved to rise up and push back against the injustices that remain today.”
In 2014, the Indigo Girls joined SDWC on stage for their debut Balboa Theatre performance, which was titled “Songs of Protest, Songs of Peace“ and last year, American Idol alum Frenchie Davis helped the chorus belt out Broadway tunes for their “Broadway Our Way” show.
Though the women have been singing together and performing spring concerts for decades, they had never held court on the Balboa stage — like their male counterparts in the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus — until SDHDF stepped in. SDHDF’s goal was to not only bring more visibility and awareness to the SDWC, but to also connect them with a specific cause: the SDHDF’s newly launched Lesbian Health Initiative, which benefits low-income lesbian and bisexual women who struggle with medical needs throughout San Diego County.
Ian said she was not planning to do much work right now while she “readjusts” her life and decides what he wants to do or “learn,” next. In fact, she said the only performance scheduled over a two-year time was one at the Lincoln Center; but when the women came calling she couldn’t say no, for a number of reasons.
“They were extremely persuasive,” she said. “And obviously the Human Dignity Foundation does wonderful work and the whole healthcare issue for anybody right now is so huge in this country. Plus, the chance to work with a large and well respected choir was definitely the icing on the cake. I was pleased to be asked.”
Ian — who is probably best known to the masses for her “At Seventeen,” for which she won “Best Female Vocalist” Grammy in 1976 — said she’s asked to do a lot of “women” events but she often must decline because in the end they are too exclusionary. Once she learned SDWC’s inclusive stance, she was fully onboard.
“As much as I understand the need for a safe space, it’s hard for me to reconcile that with the kind of music I do,” she said. “With this, it seemed a perfect opportunity to have the fun of working with a choir — and a good [artistic] director, too, Kathleen Hansen — raise some money for something good, get a trip to San Diego, maybe get some decent seafood, and just have a good time, really.
“And I love the idea that there is a lesbian health initiative — because certainly we are a marginalized area of the population but I also love that a gay men’s chorus and a women’s chorus can exist because when I was a lot younger, gay men and gay women — until AIDS really — were pretty much on opposite sides of so many things and did not get along. So it is nice to see that, too.”
Hansen has already been working with Ian on adjusting some of the arrangements for the show, but the rehearsals with the chorus won’t take place until the day beforeith a small set of singers, and the day of, with the entire chorus.
“It has been a joy to collaborate with Ms. Ian on our combined pieces,” Hansen said. “Her dedication to the music and the message is apparent with every interaction. Her newer music is every bit as beautiful and honest as her well-known classics. We can’t wait to perform with her.”
A Nashville resident since 1988, Ian said at the May 22 show she will be performing a few songs with the chorus and several of her own, including the debut of a brand new one she wrote with Angela Aki, called “Sing, Sing, Sing.” The song was written to appeal to older people or those with a family member who may have cognitive issues. She said it is the perfect song for audience participation, which she plans to make happen, and Hansen has decided they will perform it “in the round.”
“It’s a song that kids can sing, too,” Ian said. “When we sat down and started talking about it, we thought that one of the important things about having an aging population is keeping the communication lines open — like we’re seeing four or five generations now that have not been raised with their grandparents in the same city. So you see people who have not had a lot of interaction with elderly people.
“There is so much evidence that music bridges [the memory] gap, that we thought if we could make something that a grandchild and a grandparent and a parent could all sing, easily, that could be a way to bring them together,” she continued. “It’s almost like using dogs as a way to communicate without needing speech.
The writing duo has approached several organizations in the UK, including the Royal College of Surgeons, to see if they’d like to try it for patients.
“It’s a pretty cool thing,” Ian said. “We’re just starting to try it out and hoping that it will help, so [San Diego] seemed the perfect spot, to try using it at an event that is for a health initiative.”
“UPRISING: Songs of Change” will be held at 7 p.m., May 22, at the Balboa Theatre, located at 868 Fourth Ave., Downtown. Regular tickets are $15 to $85 and are available through Ticketmaster or the Balboa Theatre at sandiegotheatres.org. VIP tickets, which include premium seating and an exclusive afterparty — at the Hard Rock Cafe across the street from the Balboa Theatre — with Janis Ian in attendance, are $250. VIP tickets are available at sdhdf.org.
—Morgan M Hurley can be reached at email@example.com.