In the wake of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Amanda Korman knew what she needed to do. Sing.
At a local vigil, Korman sang songs of solidarity, mourning and protest alongside fellow members of the Charlottesville Women’s Choir “to say we do not want this violence in our country. We want to stand up for the rights of all people to be safe to gather together,” she says.
“We were able to add music to the chorus of everyone in Charlottesville who gathered to speak up in solidarity with the Florida community and the LGBTQ and Latino communities across the country that were in pain,” says Korman.
Charlottesville Women’s Choir
Founded in 1984 with the mission of “singing for peace and justice,” the Charlottesville Women’s Choir is a local force for good. The self-directed, volunteer-based choir acts as an avenue for women from all walks of life to gather, giving voice and energy to the promotion of social justice through music.
“Women’s choirs in particular have a very rich history of being involved with social change,” Korman says. “I think it was in the ’60s and ’70s that women’s choirs became a space for making social change with a particular blend of feminism, civil rights and gay rights. Since then, we’re continually expanding the umbrella to make sure we’re thinking of justice for all.
In addition to being part of this tradition, CWC supports activism through song choice. By choosing songs with poignant lyrics that are easy for groups to learn, disparate voices come together and energize people for difficult fights.
Over the last 34 years, the choir has grown from four to 40 members. Singers, from teenagers to retirees, come from all over Charlottesville and the surrounding communities, and many members have been in the choir since the ’80s and ’90s.
Korman, who works at the Women’s Initiative, joined CWC because she loves to sing in groups. “Our choir is about bringing the gift of music to the community, but it’s also a very meaningful social group for all the members,” she says. “We provide a lot of support and friendship to one another.”
That sense of community-within-the-community is partly intentional. Led by music director Karen Beiber, CWC operates by consensus. The group encourages every member to speak up about which events and songs the choir performs. Past events and venues include the International Day of Peace, Sojourners United Church of Christ and the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.
Every spring, CWC performs a benefit concert for local organizations. Past recipients have been the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build and Shelter for Help in Emergency. Keeping with tradition, this year’s performance will benefit International Neighbors Charlottesville, an all-volunteer organization that helps refugees settle in the community.
This year’s concert, held on a Sunday afternoon, is meant to be a space for adults and children alike to have fun, let loose and sing along while feeling solidarity within the community.
“We’re living in very trying times where more people in our own country don’t feel safe, where women’s rights, immigrants’ rights and civil rights are being questioned anew,” Korman says. “A lot of the songs that we sing [in this concert] speak to the need, to the importance of equal rights for everyone, particularly because of the time that we’re living in and the news cycle that we’re experiencing every day.”
One song in particular stands out. “Signs,” written by Ruth Huber, pays homage to the power of women’s voices as a collective. With lyrics inspired by messages from signs at the 2017 Women’s March, the song talks about the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter and protecting and representing the rights of immigrants, Native Americans and First Peoples, and lesbian, gay and trans people.
“This song tries to be really expansive while honoring the particular power of a women- led effort,” Korman says. “It names communities whose rights are being threatened and who, when we come together in solidarity, have so much power.”
Even the music hints at feminine power. “I am a soprano one which is the highest of all of the voices. We’re the stratospheric singers,” Korman says. “In this song, we sing a very high A note and, to me, being able to sing this high A represents being able to reach beyond what you think is possible, to hit notes that maybe only a woman could hit.” Some men could hit this note as well, but you take my point.”
In the end, Korman says, her hope for the concert is the same as that of the CWC: galvanizing people to take action in the community. “My hope is that you come away energized and ready to make positive change in Charlottesville.”