Summer Music: Voices Of Our City Choir
Speaker 1: 00:00 Out of tragedy comes triumph and transformational music. That could be the motto of San Diego's voices of our city choir. This summer, the entire nation got to meet this group of homeless musicians and singers who first assembled in a small church back in 2016 as contestants on America's got talent. The group has wild the judges and moved into the contest semifinals. But this summer has also brought sorrow for the group. Co-founder Nina Laelani daring died in a car crash in June. I made the highs and lows of recent months. The voices of city choir maintains its core inspiration, discovering that many people living on the streets are artists and musicians. Here is the voices of our city choir performing sounds of the sidewalk on America's got right Speaker 2: 01:37 [inaudible] Speaker 1: 01:37 Voices of our city choir performing sounds of the sidewalk on America's got talent, winning them a golden buzzer, sending them to the semifinals executive and creative director of the voices of our city choir. Steph Johnson joins us now. And Steph, welcome to midday edition. Thank you so much for reading. I'm so honored. You have me on today. Congratulations on making the semifinals for America's got talent. What was that like performing for a national audience? I'd have to say it's the most beautiful, surreal experience we've ever had. Um, you know, of course we're all going through this pandemic. Uh, we were acquired that started on the streets of San Diego. We never even had the intention of performing live. You know, it was just for us to come together and make music and be together. And the performing really has given our choir members so much confidence in and created this family dynamic that we go and do these events and gigs together and shows that it just it's a, it's an honor to get, to share our love with an audience. So now that experience is being done on this huge stage on for national television and America calls in and they vote and they vote for us. It's hard for me to not get emotional because it's just, it's so incredible. Speaker 1: 02:59 I can imagine. I mean, I think it chokes everybody up. Just, just listening to the choir. I'm wondering though, how did you practice for this experience, especially considering we're in the middle of a pandemic, the first audition we did, which garnered that golden buzzer that put us in the quarter finals. Um, that was one of the last performances that happened in Pasadena in front of a live audience. Right after that, we got all the quarantine homestay orders immediately. We went into putting all of our music programs online and then, uh, we realized a lot of our choir members lack technology and wifi. So then it turned into, you know, acquiring 75 laptops and distributing the laptops and making sure people had access to wifi and, and also had the training and had a tech support. But we've learned so much during this whole time. And the choir members learned all their parts via zoom. Speaker 1: 03:54 It was really incredible. Well, besides the pandemic, the choir also lost cofounder and choir director, Nina Dearing in a tragic car accident. How's everyone coping with that loss. It comes up all the time. Actually, we, uh, you know, the choir's grown, we now have about 250 members, uh, Nina and I started the choir together and 2016, some of those original choir members are still involved, but she was with the organization for the first two years. And she, for the people who met her and knew her, it has been a really tragic loss. And, um, we like to think that she's this angel and this omnipresent, you know, force that's with us when we're doing these amazing things, because I know it's beyond, it's beyond her dreams, but she always held this really big vision for, for the choir. So it's, she's with us and all these big moments for sure. Speaker 1: 04:49 Now voices of our city has already made a tremendous impact on the people. Who've heard the choir and in the lives of the unsheltered people here in San Diego, can you give us an idea of how the group has changed lives through this, you know, year after year of this kind of a commitment to each other, we've helped over 60 people move up the street. A lot of our choir members have reconnected with family. A lot of choir members have chosen sobriety given up smoking cigarettes, um, choosing a healthier path, a healthier lifestyle, gone back to work. And a lot of our choir members, including our case manager and two members of our staff, they were unsheltered when we started the choir and they became part of the choir and now have have jobs as not only in their, you know, in their position, but they're like peer advocates. Speaker 1: 05:40 So it's people who would live to experience being there as a resource and connecting people to resources at their time at their pace. We're a constant presence. Even during the, even during the pandemic, we still partner with living water church downtown, and we've opened up, um, a five day week folk food distribution, um, hot meal, distribution clothing. Um, also we have a five day a week, uh, charging station, which is all run by choir members. It's just, um, it's a gateway and it's a, it's a, it's a path and a connection without any judgment and only just love and a friendship. You know, let's hear another song. We're going to hear voices of our city choir performing, thinking about Speaker 2: 07:06 [inaudible]. Speaker 1: 07:09 I was thinking about love performed by voices of our city choir. And I'm speaking with the executive and creative director of voices of our city choir, Steph Johnson. What is the one thing that you would like people to see the next time they see someone on the streets of San Diego who was living unsheltered? What should we look for besides the fact, Oh, that's a homeless person? Well, I, I wish that everybody knew when they see a person who's experiencing homelessness, that that person didn't, they didn't do something to deserve to be there. There's, there's a series of events that happen sometimes that are completely out of our control and homelessness could happen to anybody. And if, if you're unable to feel that if you're unable to see that, then I think it's important to strengthen your, your own empathy and your own ability to put yourself in a person's shoes. Speaker 1: 08:11 And if a person, as it, as an example of, you know, what what's going on, if a person is unsheltered for just a week or two, they are already suffering severe post traumatic stress. And, um, when you're in a struggle to survive, you know, not just where can you use the restroom and where can you get water? But people are, you know, you have to stay awake all night because people might steal your last belongings or they may attack you. Or if you're a woman, they may attack you physically sexually, and you have nothing in no way to protect yourself. If any of us experienced what an unsheltered person goes through every night, then I don't think homelessness would exist. I really don't. Now you win. America's got talent. What are you going to do with the prize money? Speaker 2: 09:00 Well, I like the way you're thinking Marine. Um, I, I think that we would keep putting it into the organization for sure. I think that there's a need for us here and it continues to grow. And during COVID we found new ways to reach out to people. So we would just continue and put it, put it back in into all of the programs that we offer. Speaker 1: 09:21 I've been speaking with the executive and creative director of the voices of our city choir, Steph Johnson, who was a musician in her own. Right. And Steph, I want to thank you so much for speaking with us and thank you for what you do. Speaker 2: 09:36 Thank you so much for having me. Thank you. [inaudible] Speaker 1: 09:52 To see a video of the voices of our city choir performing go to kpbs.org/summer music series and the choir performs on America's got talent next Tuesday, September 15th at eight o'clock on NBC. Yeah. Speaker 2: 10:05 Vote. As you stay up to the sound [inaudible].