When Dallas Street Choir embarks on an 8-day East Coast tour with Credo Community Choir this month, the choir will be the first musical ensemble comprised of those experiencing homelessness to perform at Carnegie Hall.
Dr. Jonathan Palant, the founder and director of both choirs, initially directed a group of homeless Dallas residents at The Stewpot two or three times a year. Palant officially established Dallas Street Choir in October 2014.
The choir made its concert debut on January 25, 2015, performing Street Requiem, a piece about the plight of the homeless by Jonathan Welch, Kathleen McGuire and Andy Payne.
Since its founding, over 1,000 singers have attended at least one rehearsal. The choir rehearses from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. every Wednesday and on average 80 to 100 singers participate.
68 percent of the singers reside in shelters while 23 percent live on the streets. They gather looking for joy and purpose. They sing about overcoming obstacles and reaching their full potential.
“It has become a sacred hour of safety, of humor, of music, of community and for many folks, a family they don’t otherwise have. Every Wednesday morning, we have members who wouldn’t dare miss a week of Dallas Street Choir rehearsal because they simply love it so much and they need it. It gives them purpose. They are needed in this group,” Palant said.
Since its founding, Dallas Street Choir has been a model for establishing choirs of homeless citizens in Indianapolis, Baltimore, Albuquerque, Norfolk and San Diego.
The choir was shocked when Palant introduced the idea of touring. Many choir members have never flown and several have never left the state of Texas.
The choir has been fundraising for over a year to cover the expenses of the trip, including extensive tours of New York and Washington, D.C.
Interested choir members were required to complete a lengthy application process. Those applications reveal the singers’ stories and the impact the choir has had on their lives.
“When you’re homeless, every day is a struggle. You have no peace, no place to lay your head, no real security. You trust no one. No one is really a friend. You are pretty much to yourself—alone. The Dallas Street Choir and my faith in God helps me believe in myself again,” Tony C. said.
“I have been singing in this wonderful choir for just about a year. This choir brings joy to my spirit every Wednesday morning. My family wasn’t a great family. Me and my mother, we was trying to make it through life’s struggles. In 1996, I started getting in trouble with the law. I was in high school then. I used to be a runaway and everything. In 2015, I decide to come to The Bridge (Dallas-based shelter) and get help that I need because I know outside will not help on getting housing. This homeless has been a struggle for me. Ever since I join the choir, I love what Dr. Jonathan doing for the homeless community,” Steven J. said.
This trip represents fulfilling a musical ambition.
“Going on this trip and singing at Carnegie Hall helps me to fulfill a life-long dream to sing at a venue of this stature. Many professional singers would give their eyeteeth to sing there. To go is a blessing and validates me. I am an example to my children, grandchildren, siblings, and whole family to never, ever give up on your dreams,” Debra S. said.
Choir members want everyone to recognize their talents.
“The Dallas Street Choir motto is ‘Homeless, Not Voiceless.' This makes me believe I can go places. I learn to see the other choir members can have as much fun together. There is an education that makes people want to strive to be better. It is an opportunity to show and share our gifts with other people,” Donald B. said.
Palant selected 22 Dallas Street Choir singers to join over 80 singers from Credo Community Choir. At Carnegie Hall on June 14, the combined choirs and mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, will premiere Jake Heggie’s new setting of “Spinning Song”, by Hub Miller. Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz will perform music from Wicked.
Hundreds of free tickets have been donated to the New York City Department of Homeless Services and transportation to the concert has been arranged for homeless concertgoers.
On June 15, the choir will travel to Washington D.C. and perform a concert with Frederica von Stade at the Washington National Cathedral. At the Church of the Epiphany, a congregation with an active homeless ministry, the choir will serve breakfast, worship and perform a concert.
“It will be a really interactive community-building event. We’re trying to be a model for what’s possible in the homeless community,” Palant said.
MORE: Dallas Street Choir
Kimberly Richard is a North Texan with a passion for the arts. She’s worked with Theatre Three, Inc. and interned for the English National Opera and Royal Shakespeare Company. She graduated from Austin College and currently lives in Garland with her very pampered cocker spaniel, Tessa.