Can’t keep quiet

Doin’ It Justice Community Chorus promotes a better society through singing together

Warren Haskell (far right) leads a rehearsal of Doin’ It Justice at New Vision Church.

Warren Haskell (far right) leads a rehearsal of Doin’ It Justice at New Vision Church.

Photo by michelle camy

Doin’ It Justice Community Chorus spring concert: Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Two shows: Saturday, May 20, 7 p.m.; Sunday, May 21, 4 p.m.
Suggested donation: $10-$20
St. John’s Episcopal Church
2341 Floral Ave.

In the Doin’ It Justice Community Chorus, individual singing ability is of secondary importance to what’s in the collective’s heart.

“Our general mission is to promote a more socially equitable society through our shared love of music and by singing songs for folks,” said Erik Samuelson—a part of the chorus since 2013—as members trickled into the New Vision church on Mangrove Avenue for weekly practice last Monday (May 8). “We try to foster appreciation, affirmation and validation of each individual member’s thoughts, beliefs and feelings, and to create a real connection with each other and the audience.

“Most of us have no formal musical training and might not even have the best voices, but it’s a real supportive group,” Samuelson said.

To reach its goals, the chorus operates as a collective. All decisions, down to song selections for each concert, are chosen by consensus, with each of the roughly three-dozen members having an equal say. No one member is above another, including director Warren Haskell and founding members like Kathy Faith.

Faith explained that the chorus was formed from the remains of another local community group, an all-women’s chorus called Harmonia. When Doin’ It Justice first came together in the summer of 2008, Faith and other founders knew they wanted the group to be completely democratic and remain focused on songs of peace and justice.

Haskell said he considers himself an unlikely choral director of an atypical vocal ensemble.

“I’m probably one of the few people in existence that’s been directing a chorus for almost a decade without having any kind of training to do so,” said Haskell, whose own musical education is in classical guitar. He had a little experience directing his own church’s choir and, for a time, the long-running men’s vocal group the Bidwell Generals, but said he’s mostly learned as he’s gone along.

“I must be doing all right though,” he said, “because people keep showing up.”

Members of the chorus say Haskell has done better than just all right, and credit his patience and stewardship of the group with helping members unlock their potential.

“None of us expected to be able to sing very well, but he really brings out our best,” Faith said.

As an extension of its mission, the chorus collectively chooses a community organization to receive donations collected from each performance. Samuelson said the group has raised thousands of dollars in recent years for groups such as seasonal homeless shelter Safe Space and transitional housing provider Stairways Programming. For its annual spring concert—with two performances, May 20 and 21, at St. John’s Episcopal Church—proceeds will benefit the Chico Peace & Justice Center and Women’s Health Specialists.

This year’s concert is called Bridge Over Troubled Waters, and will include the chorus’ version of the Simon and Garfunkel classic. Other pieces will include Anais Mitchell’s “Why We Build the Wall,” a musical adaptation of the Emily Dickinson poem “Hope,” and a newer composition called “Quiet” that fits well into the chorus’ ideals.

“A woman named MILCK wrote it for the Women’s March [in Washington, D.C.] and sent it out to people beforehand,” Faith explained. “People who’d never met or practiced it together showed up, found each other on the street and sang it together there. It’s become kind of an anthem.”

Faith stopped, hummed a little, then sang the song’s refrain, a fitting mantra for Doin’ It Justice members who’ve found solace and strength against injustice by raising their voices together: “I can’t keep quiet.”