A few blocks off the main drag through Yakima, WA, on a tree-lined street, The Seasons Performance Hall, for one July night only, is the hottest club in the Valley. The former house of worship, which still sports stained glass windows and rows of pews (now with added cocktail tables), is vibrating with the energy of an audience that is hollering, singing, clapping and yes, dancing along as the voices of Seattle Women’s Chorus and Seattle Men’s Chorus belt out Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” This is how the Sing Out Washington tour begins.
Seattle audiences will recognize that song as the closing number of last season’s highly successful Not In Our Town. The concert’s message of unity, love and acceptance resonated in this welcoming beacon that is the Emerald City. But, for the true depth of our message to be felt, we needed to burst the Seattle bubble.
Over the purple mountain majesties, past the amber waves of grain and back through the fruited plains, 150 chorus members took the 800 mile journey to sing for new audiences in Yakima, Spokane and Walla Walla. Joined by a band, a grand piano and a conductor, we (over)filled the intimate halls with songs of courage, affirmation, and celebration for audiences looking for our music and our message.
We sang for long time supporters of ours who have moved away from the Puget Sound; we sang for Oregon residents who couldn’t miss the concert that their friend had recommended only the night before; and we sang for the people who needed us the most.
SWC member Dorian McGlannan spoke with a lesbian couple in Spokane who were very emotional about the concert. “One of the women almost started crying and said ‘we just don’t go out much. But we were determined to come to this.’ I took this to mean that they did not feel safe going out in public as a couple. I felt very sad but also grateful that they were able to come to the concert.”
In each city we visited, audience members thronged singers on the way out, hugging us and whispering in our ears, “come back soon, we need you.” SWC member Lauri Boren said, “In Eastern Washington, we brought hope to those fighting for social justice where so few demonstrations of that are uplifted.”
In Spokane, we connected with the organizers of the new Spokane Area Pride Chorus which is in the process of formation to be a new voice of pride. We also provided free tickets for LGBTQA teenagers, allowing them to see themselves reflected back from the stage, surrounded by affirming members of their own communities.
To ensure that our impact didn’t simply end when we came back over the pass, Seattle Choruses partnered with local social justice organizations with a pledge to leave 100% of ticket revenue in each community. Raising over $16,000 in total, we were able to give these small organizations, some run entirely by volunteers, a significant contribution to support the populations they serve, including youth, people impacted by HIV and AIDS, and LGBTQ people living in rural areas. Jean, a member of our nonprofit partner ACT Yakima, said the “captivating and inspiring performance gives me hope that love and acceptance for all is possible.”
We were able to donate the ticket sales to fellow nonprofits thanks to the singing members, who self-funded their participation, and the generous support of our sponsors: Alhadeff Family Charitable Foundation, Debbie Killinger, The Cricket Foundation, Yakima Valley Community Foundation and The Starline Collection, which helped underwrite bus transportation.