By Grace Walters
19 months ago, Jennifer Kane, director of the Arlington-based Cantilena Women’s Chorale, decided that she wanted to make a difference in her community and show “ways in which women could be strong and utilise their strength.” With this goal in mind, Kane, along with Leora Zimmer, director of another local women’s chorale called Voices Rising, conceived the idea of a benefit concert for empowering homeless women in the Boston area.
Over a year and a half later, their idea became a reality. First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington hosted the “We Make More than Music Here” Benefit Concert for Empowering Homeless Women in their sanctuary on Saturday, March 9 from 4-7 pm.
The three choruses that performed at the concert were the Cantilena Women’s Chorale, Voices Rising, and the Eureka Ensemble’s Women’s Chorus.
The Cantilena Women’s Chorale is approaching its 40th anniversary next year. The chorale was originally established in Arlington as an all-gender inclusive, “SATB” group (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass). However, forty years ago, it transitioned to an all-women’s chorale. Ten years later, they adopted the name, “Cantilena,” which is the Italian-Latin word for “song.”
Jennifer Kane, the co-founder of the benefit concert, has been the director of Cantilena for four seasons. The chorus is very diverse with women ranging from graduate school-age to women in their seventies and possibly older. Some members of the chorale have been singing their whole lives; others are new to singing. “We have a mix of cultural backgrounds as well,” says Kane. “It’s a really nice community of people.”
The group rehearses every Monday from 7:30-10:00 pm between the months of September and May. They have two anchor concerts at the end of each semester and occasional small concerts. Kane says, “[The benefit concert] is a smaller performance. Although, I don’t know if I would classify it as a smaller performance because it seems like such a sizable endeavor.”
In May 2019, the chorale is putting on two concerts; one will be held in Arlington and the other in Newton. The theme of the concert is celebrating remarkable women, namely, Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, and Malala Yousafzai.
According to their mission statement, Voices Rising is an all-women’s ensemble “founded upon feminist principles of community, inclusivity, activism and education.” Voices Rising was established in February 2004 by a small group of passionate and committed women who simply wanted to sing together.
Leora Zimmer, a local musician and co-founder of the “We Make More than Music Here” benefit concert, was invited to be the artistic director of Voices Rising when it was first established. They began performing as a group at a rally for marriage equality during March 2004 and later opened Boston’s Gay Pride week with a performance in Faneuil Hall.
Now, with just under 70 members ranging from 20 to 65 years of age, Voices Rising performs in two fully produced concerts of roughly 10-15 pieces of memorized music every spring and fall. Additionally, Voices Rising sang backup for Demi Lovato on the Boston stop of her “Self Love” tour.
Voices Rising is now celebrating their 15th year, which, according to the chorale’s social media director, Ruthanne Corthell, “is a testament to the strong foundation that those first members laid for us [in 2004].”
The Women’s Chorus
The Women’s Chorus is a subgroup of the Greater Boston-based Eureka Ensemble and is entirely comprised of women who are facing severe poverty or homelessness. They rehearse two times a week at the Women’s Lunch Place, a homeless shelter for women on Newbury Street that offers food, medical care, and community.
In March 2018, faculty members of the Eureka Ensemble held auditions at the Women’s Lunch Place—for women from homeless shelters in Boston and Cambridge—where they learned how to sing and be in a choir. From these auditions grew a cohesive group of strong female singers.
Today, the Women’s Chorus frequently performs at concert events, many of which address and raise funds for the issue of homelessness.
The co-founders of the Women’s Chorus, David McCue and Kristo Kondakçi, say that “There is a critical need for those experiencing poverty and homelessness to bring their voices to the public discourse, to increase their access to the performing arts, and to expand public awareness about the realities of homelessness.”
Fundraising for a Cause
The proceeds from the benefit concert are going towards both the Women’s Lunch Place and the Women’s Chorus.
“We originally talked about doing a collaboration to benefit a women’s issue like cancer research and things along that line,” says Kane. “It seemed like a really nice pairing to talk to [the Women’s Chorus] about being the beneficiaries of this concert, and not only did they want to be the beneficiaries, but they [also] wanted to participate, which was even better.”
The suggested donation for attending the benefit concert was $20 per person, which, combined with additional donations, grossed a lot of money.
The program began promptly at 4 pm on March 9. However, the First Parish sanctuary was chock-full of people as early as 3:30 and guests overflowed both the lower and balcony seats. Audience members sat eagerly with their programs in their laps until a multitude of women wearing purple robes entered the sanctuary. The audience applauded the women as they assembled themselves towards the front.
The three choruses presented a beautiful repertoire, incorporating a nice blend of both older and contemporary pieces, many of which were created by female composers.
The concert lasted for roughly three hours, ending at 7 pm. At the end of the program, coffee and cake was served in the First Parish community center.
First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington is a congregation of over 400 members, many of which are AHS students. Their community is founded upon UU principles, such as “justice, equity and compassion in human relations” and the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
Events that benefit social justice causes are frequently hosted at First Parish.
Mary Cummings, Co-Chair of the Social Justice Committee at First Parish, says, “Homeless women are extremely vulnerable, [both] physically and mentally, and they are a population that does not receive much attention. We are glad to have the opportunity to support them.”