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Raising voices for change
ActNow: Calliope Women's Chorus sings for social justice
Calliope Women's Chorus, photo by Heidi Garrido

"[It's important to] have women's voices speaking our truth in an artistic way."
- Jeanne Cornish

by Kathy Magnuson

How does singing make social change? Jeanne Cornish, a member of the Calliope Women's Chorus, says that it's just a part of the whole journey of fighting for equal rights for women.

Calliope performs music with social-justice themes. It is the second-oldest feminist chorus in the country. Founded in 1976, Calliope held its first self-produced concert in 1982, and continues to offer at least two full concert programs per season plus several community performances.

The organization hopes to raise awareness of issues and to keep hope alive for those working for social justice. With proud roots in the lesbian community, the group now represents a range of sexual orientations. "We are a women's chorus and a feminist chorus," Cornish says. Calliope aims to provide a comfortable place for all women to "gather, celebrate and renew spirits."

It's a natural for Cornish, who claims she was singing before she was talking. Her first year of life, she lived with a grandmother who rocked her to sleep singing lullabies every night. As an adult, it's important to her to "have women's voices speaking our truth in an artistic way," she says. "Being women who are visible and willing to stand up and say things that are important. To claim our rights."

Calliope's April concert was titled "Revolutionary Women." Music paid tribute to Hildegard von Bingen, a German nun and the first woman known to have music published in the Middle Ages; Joan of Arc, a French political crusader who was burned at the stake in 1431 at the age of 19; Abigail Adams, an early voice for U.S. women's suffrage; Helen Reddy, who sang the 1970s feminist anthem: "I am woman, hear me roar," and Mother Earth. In "Like a Mountain" by Naomi Littlebear Martinez, the chorus sang out: "Nobody can stop a woman from feelin' she has to rise up like the sun."

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There are many ways to join in with Calliope. Auditions for singers are held a couple of times a year, the next being Aug. 25. Instrumentalists are invited to contact the chorus about sharing their talents. And for those who catch the energy but don't have the singing inclination, consider volunteering to help with publicity, graphics, fundraising or grantwriting. There are lots of ways to raise your voice.

FFI: calliopewomenschorus.org For auditions contact: board@calliopewomenschorus.org

Where do you see women connecting and making change in your world? Send me your story, magnuson@womenspress.com

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