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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of  Music
December 9, 2016
Canadian Excellence

Sing Fires of Justice: Part 1 and 2

Part 1: Sing Fires of Justice: The Power of Song!  A model for a choral event that creates a community for a cause

Lee Willingham, Debbie Lou Ludolph, Wilfrid Laurier University

A Saturday morning choral workshop for church music leaders in 2005 has mushroomed into a full-blown community choral event that raises funds and sheds a spotlight on a social justice cause. In this paper we provide the rationale and the strategic planning that has seen Sing Fires of Justice grow from a scheduled choral conductors’ clinic and celebration of Reformation Sunday into an annual ecumenical event. Sing Fires brings together church choir singers and their directors from various denominations, the Faculty of Music and the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary of Wilfrid Laurier University, Royal Canadian College of Organists, Conrad Grebel University (Mennonite) of the University of Waterloo, community choirs, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, the K-W Youth Symphony, and carefully selected guest speakers who animate the cause that is being supported and challenge the perspectives of those in attendance. Causes that have been addressed include Out of the Cold shelter for homeless people, Project Ploughshares peace initiatives, KAIROS environmental justice, and ISARC interfaith coalition that addresses poverty issues.

We outline the process that starts each year with a small representative planning committee and culminates in a weekend of workshops , rehearsals, and finally a public service featuring chamber choirs and a massed choral ensemble with a guest conductor. This presentation will address artistry and leadership, volunteering, partnerships, social justice, liturgy, and community building through choral music.

Part 2: Sing Fires of Justice:
Exploring the impact of a community based music and social justice tradition

Lee Willingham, Associate Professor,

Faculty of Music, Wilfrid Laurier University

Debbie Lou Ludolph, Dean of Chapel,

Waterloo Lutheran Seminary

Survey conducted on c60 participants on impact of music on social justice values. Paper presented in July, 2013, Festival 500 Phenomenon of Singing Symposium, Memorial University, St. John’s NL. To be published in Symposium Proceedings.

In a paper presented at the Festival 500 Symposium: The Power of Song, 2011, we concluded that through music we are moved…mobilized into an action that advances our community and makes clear our place as privileged people. Through Sing Fires of Justice, we explored a model where soulful, relevant, respectful and inclusive community is created, and lives of value and quality are cultivated and promoted.

Sing Fires VII (for peace) is taking place as we submit this proposal. At this event, with ethics approval from Laurier’s Review Ethics Board, we investigate the impact that Sing Fires has on the choral singing participants. Why do they come? Are their goals to deepen personal singing skills? Do they embrace the Sing Fires raison d’etre of enlarging the community’s capacity to reach out to those sectors that are often disregarded and/or ignored? To what degree can music be an agent of change? What challenges do the participants face and to what degree does the experience impact the musical, spiritual, and cultural lives of those who come? What role does the public witness through singing of faith and social justice play in terms of informing action? Is it important that members of the Muslim, Jewish, and diverse Christian faith communities are given leadership roles in the public service presented at the end of the two day workshop?

These questions are part of a participant survey. Subsequent to the Sing Fires VII event, volunteers will be interviewed, and the organizing committee will devote meeting time to reveal their own understanding of the value of such an endeavor. This paper will shed light on the personal impact that Sing Fires of Justice has had on the choral singing participant.

“Both art and phenomenological inquiry strive to communicate what is primary within an experience” (Willis, 1991, pg. 176).