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Voices of Our City Choir Performs at the Santa Monica Public Library

November 15, 2017 11:30 AM
by Erica Cuyugan

Voices of Our City Choir Performs at the Santa Monica Public Library

The Santa Monica Public Library is pleased to announce an uplifting performance by Voices of Our City Choir on Saturday, November 18, at 12:00 pm, in the Main Library's Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium. Following the performance will be a Q & A with the choir's co-founders, Steph Johnson and Nina Deering. This program is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and available on a first arrival basis. 

Voices of Our City Choir was founded in response to the housing crisis in San Diego that has left many people homeless. Co-founders Steph Johnson and Nina Deering sought out to learn the stories of those affected and help in anyway they could. The Library caught up with Steph Johnson to learn of her inspiration and the beginnings of Voices of Our City.

Q: What inspired you to start Voices of Our City?

Steph Johnson: I noticed an overwhelming increase of people living on the streets of San Diego and I wanted to help. I arranged outreach teams with my friends in which we would share home cooked food, clothing, and blankets and get to know our unsheltered neighbors. Many people we met hadn't been spoken to for months. They were also being heavily criminalized with incessant ticketing and arresting; an absolute injustice considering that many of them simply could no longer afford to live in San Diego. As I got to know the homeless people I met, I found out that many played an instrument and sang. I also became very aware that their situation could happen to anyone. My friend Nina Deering (our choir director and cofounder) wanted to get involved and agreed to start the Voices of Our City Choir with me. As she put it, "We wanted to give people an opportunity to get out of the jungle for a while."

Q: What do you hope people will take away from the group/program?

SJ: I hope people will recognize that positive change can happen but only with love and compassion. Every Friday we come together for our weekly choir practice, a safe and respectful place created by professional musicians for people experiencing homelessness. Through this amazing community we have built, we have seen major progress in the individual lives of our choir members. The music and singing has brought people back to a more positive time - people are rebuilding themselves and getting back up. It is truly amazing and inspiring.

Q: What’s the most surprising outcome of the collaboration?

SJ: I would say the most surprising outcome is twofold. One, we never thought that we would become a professional performance ensemble - sometimes with a dozen performances in one month, playing major music venues, events and recently for TEDx. Second, we ended up connecting 20 people with their own housing and/or back with family. That is 20 people we have met, who were living unsheltered on the streets, who now have a place to sleep and rebuild their lives.

Q: Your work changes lives. What story sticks with you when reflecting on your journey with Voices of Our City Choir?

SJ: Our choir member Jeff, who became homeless from his disability (MS), recently moved into his own place. A couple weeks ago we were performing and he sang the most beautiful and emotional solo, standing there with every ounce of effort he could manage to deliver his part. I was moved to tears while I played guitar behind him on stage.

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