The Music Moves Hartford Street Choir is a musical group with a difference. The choir members are all part of the downtown homeless community.
The project is a collaboration between Hartford’s Christ Church Cathedral and arts organization Cuatro Puntos.
Kevin Bishop, executive director of the organization, told Connecticut Public Radio the idea for the choir came from discussions with the dean of Christ Church Cathedral, the Very Rev. Miguelina Howell.
“What can we do in our community? So, we started doing research and talking to people,” said Bishop. “What we discovered was that there was an actual population right beneath our feet, quite literally in the basement of Christ Church Cathedral, that was very eager to make music.”
The organizations Church Street Eats and Hands on Hartford operate a soup kitchen in the basement of Christ Church Cathedral.
Bishop said he saw the choir idea as a way to give the people who regularly visit the soup kitchen the chance to be part of something that would take them away from their day-to-day concerns, at least for a little while.
“A place to have that safe space to really create that great place to have community,” said Bishop.
When the choir launched in April 2018, there were just four members. Now there are 44, and the choir has started performing regularly in the Hartford area. Choir rehearsals are Wednesday mornings at Christ Church Cathedral and Tuesday nights at the nearby South Park Inn homeless shelter.
Choir members are rewarded with a bus pass for their attendance at rehearsal. For choir member Beverly, who loves gospel and jazz, the experience of practicing and performing is “simply awesome.”
“People say I can’t sing, but I know I can,” said Beverly. “Being here is helping me to improve my voice and to improve my spirituality.”
Working with homeless people has its challenges, according to Bishop. Some members have never sung, so in rehearsal he works diligently with them on the basic concepts of singing, things like pitch, intonation and diction.
Turnover is another challenge. While some choir members have been with him from day one, many leave Hartford for various reasons.
Often, it’s a cause for celebration.
“We are always hearing these great success stories of people who are moving up through the ranks that get their apartment, who get a full-time job or a part-time job,” said Bishop.
Bishop says Music Moves Hartford brings out the best in himself and the members.
“We put a big piece of paper up on the wall, and I asked them, ‘Why are you here?’ Some of the things they wrote on the list was of course to sing, but then they said things like ‘spread joy,’ ‘to help people through hard times,’ ‘to go out and sing in public places and make people’s day better.’ They were wanting to be ambassadors of peace, joy and kindness within their own community.”
For choir member Chris, singing is a connection to his late mother, who used to sing in church. It’s also about being a part of the community.
“Yeah, it’s a real uplifting thing because it brings people from different backgrounds, different areas to sing. You know, you can run into people you haven’t seen for a while.”
The Music Moves Hartford Street Choir performs this Wednesday morning at 11:30 in the lobby of the Hartford Hilton.