"Love Can Build a Bridge" Concert Beautifully Connects Music, Humanity

"Love Can Build a Bridge" Concert Beautifully Connects Music, Humanity

Monday night at the University of San Diego’s Shiley Theatre there was a dual purpose — the power of music and humanity.

Choir-Love Can Build A Bridge

The USD Choral Scholars, the USD Concert Choir and the nonprofit community organization Voices of Our City Choir presented a beautiful night of music. The Choral Scholar singers and the Concert Choir combined for a nine-song concert. Voices of Our City Choir then did seven songs, including two with ample back-up from the USD choirs.

Music can certainly bring people together and be an uplifting experience. But what the concert, called “Love Can Build a Bridge,” also did was strengthen a genuine connection between USD students, faculty and staff and members of the San Diego community who’ve experienced homelessness but are equally passionate about music and its transformational power.

Voices of Our City Choir was created in response to the current housing crisis and was founded by San Diego musicians in 2016. Weekly choir practices serve as a space for mutual aid and community building, as well as giving voice to the local homeless community, past and present, the organization states.

“We firmly believe singing provides a positive sense of community and solidarity for people facing extreme hardships. It reduces stress, heightens awareness, empowers minds, strengthens bodies and sets the stage for peace and healing.”

Music’s power lends itself to more ways to explore melding of it with other avenues, be it health or a changemaking act of social awareness.

“I love the idea of utilizing music for building social cohesion, encountering difference and creating spaces for us to discover truths about our common humanity and our own humanity, and I think music is well positioned to do that,” said Choral Scholars Director Emilie Amrein, DMA, in a recent interview for USD’s College of Arts and Science website to promote the concert.

The concert event, co-hosted by the USD Department of Music and the USD Just Read! Program and the Center for Educational Excellence, gave USD choir members a chance to further what had been started earlier this year when they attended a recent Voices of Our City Choir rehearsal.

“I think whenever you leave your comfort zone and get in proximity to people you may have some things in common with, but perhaps many differences with, I think that it is a revealing experience and can really blow your mind in terms of recognizing the humanity of others and within yourself,” Amrein said. “It’s less about the performance and more about the relationship that we are building with these encounters with the Voices of Our City Choir.”

The concert itself was a whirlwind of songs. Amrein and Concert Choir Director Paul Infantino, also a USD alumnus, utilized Lisa Pagan on piano and Ryan Nestor on percussion for most songs. Several students had solo performance spots during the songs, including Jonathan Bidinger and Madeline Ang on “Cornerstone,” Annie Flati on “The Listening,” Alexander Green on “Shed a Little Light,” Bridget Burke on “We Shall Overcome,” Will Altinger, Blake Brown and Sam Kassman on “Glory,” and Kiera McNeill on “Look Out Above.”

Following “Freedom Train,” the USD choirs went to their seats in Shiley Theatre and took in the Voices of Our City Choir performance. Nearly 25 members, including singers, guitarist/vocalist Steph Johnson, executive and artistic director for the organization and a four-man band (drums, keyboards, bass, acoustic guitar) performed. The USD choirs in attendance cheered enthusiastically after each song.

Each song done by the choir offered a message of coping, support and hope. Their selections were Eric Clapton’s “Change the World,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On?” “Love Rescue Me,” “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and then with the USD choirs joining them, “Lean On Me,” and the finale, Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” Three of the songs featured solo performances by Voices choir members.

After the show’s conclusion, the connections continued. USD choir students and Voices choir members were conversing and congratulating each other on their performance and at least one USD student was overheard telling a choir member that she looks forward to attending future Voices rehearsals to support them and to share in an environment where she has something in common — a passion for music and a desire to improve humanity.

“The way that music and the arts interact with our community currently at USD and in San Diego, I think there’s a lot of room for these relationships to be strengthened and I am excited about this collaboration,” Amrein said. “It is one of the many ways that USD can engage the art-making, music-making and theatre-making community here in San Diego for these kinds of social goals.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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