Raising Our Voices: Lesbian Songs of Joy and Community in Oregon

The Singers of Soromundi
The Singers of Soromundi

Guest Blogger Mary K. Robertson is part of the Pride Foundation Community in Oregon. She shares the triumphant story of Eugene’s Soromundi Choir, a musical place that celebrates song and diversity.

When Amber was in fifth grade her teacher told her to “just mouth the words.” Gani’s teacher said she was tone deaf. Kara finally got up her nerve to try out for a musical her senior year, but was given an impossibly highly-pitched piece to sing. “My audition was a train wreck,” she remembers ruefully.

Not auspicious musical beginnings — yet these three women now join over a hundred others once a week to make music together, and to heal themselves and their community. As part of Soromundi: Lesbian Chorus of Eugene — one of the country’s largest community LGBTQ choirs — members commit to a grueling practice and performance schedule because they believe their visibility and power can help bring healing.

“We think music should be available to everyone,” says Amber, Soromundi’s president.  “Singing in a choir is a way to connect both with the people you sing with, and the people you sing to,” points out Gani.

Helping others gain access to music is such a passion with the choir that last month, these three joined thirty other chorus members, along with community and granting partners like Pride Foundation, to help bring music back to a local high school.

The choir practices at North Eugene High School. At North Eugene, the choir room sat empty – due to school budget cuts to the arts – except on Soromundi’s rehearsal night. “It was hard, knowing there was no school choir there anymore,” says Amber. Dingy paint and tattered acoustic tiles lining the walls didn’t help the mournful atmosphere.

North Eugene High Principal Anne Erwin and Soromundi members saw an opportunity. Why not completely renovate the North Eugene choir room resulting in a first-class choral space that could be used by the students as well as the community? It could support the school’s efforts to restore a choral music program and make another large choral space available to Eugene.

“We love having Soromundi here. They bring this incredible energy and spirit with them each week,” says Anne, a strong proponent of partnering with community groups. “We leave here at 4:00, so having them sing is a way to keep our school vibrant after the students leave for the day.”

Pride Foundation provided seed money and the school kicked in the materials for the first phase of the renovation. Soromundi members brought the scaffolding and the labor force, and the crew was able to completely refresh the room before the school’s scheduled open house for prospective students. Next on the project list is rebuilding the wooden risers, installing insulation to improve the room’s sound, and repairing the damaged acoustic tiles that line the choir room walls.

Chorus members and students alike are eager to help.

“I came to paint because I had those opportunities as a kid,” says Daryl, who joined the choir eight years ago. “I can’t imagine my life without the music education I had as a kid. I want to give a little back so other kids can learn and come to appreciate music.”

As for Kara? After her disastrous high school audition, she didn’t open her mouth to sing in front of another human until coworkers encouraged her to join Soromundi. “I was really scared but I walked through that door and was welcomed with open arms, where I’ve been happily singing ever since—that was in 2001. I cannot imagine my life without music now!”

Learn more about Soromundi: Lesbian Chorus of Eugene here. Catch Soromundi’s next concert  May 19 at Eugene’s Hult Center for the Performing Arts. The letters of inquiry online application for our 2012 granting cycle will be available June 1. To find out more about Pride Foundation’s Granting cycle, email Oregon Regional Development Organizer Jett Johnson.

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