Long Beach church announces new community choir

Community choirs have a special place in any local arts landscape: they not only present musical events that are often accessible and fun, but they get local music lovers genuinely engaged and involved with others, offering individuals of all sorts an opportunity to broaden their horizons, meet and work with new people, and build bonds that can last a lifetime.

It’s powerful stuff. Bravo to Stan DeWitt and Grace First for diving into a project that will bring people together and make plenty more music for Long Beach. We’ll be watching out for you.

See the press release and full details below:

“Unity Choir” will Bring Communities Together through Singing

Choir will be Sponsored and Led by Grace First Presbyterian Church

Long Beach, CA, November 6, 2019 — Grace First Presbyterian Church has announced that it will form a new community choir in early 2020, led by Minister of Music Stan DeWitt, aimed at bringing together community members who are striving for equity, inclusion, diversity, justice and peace. The Unity Choir will be a non-auditioned choir where the goal will be personal expression and connections through singing and will intentionally reach across cultural and socio-economic barriers to create a support network, rooted in music, for all the members of the Choir. 

Support for those among us who are the hardest hit by poverty and exclusion is at the core of Grace First Presbyterian Church, and is indeed baked into the very history of the congregation. Grace First is the merger of two congregations (2003). One of those two congregations was Grace Presbyterian, a predominantly Japanese-American congregation whose members lived through their own interment in the camps during World War II. Grace First is built on the lives of people who understand first-hand the needs of the oppressed and the outcast. Through music, the Unity Choir will seek to live out Grace First’s mission statement as a practicing faith community, intentionally multicultural and intergenerational, impacting contemporary life through the love and justice of Jesus Christ.

How will it do that? Modeled loosely on the amazing work of Erin Guinup and the Tacoma Refugee Choir (www.refugeechoir.org), our choir will sing one service a month at Grace First (voluntarily, so that other faith traditions can sing in the choir without religious conflict.) We’ll also be building a more secular concert repertoire of music that we will be singing at events throughout the city, events that promote or focus on inclusion, diversity, justice, peace and constructive dialogue on issues such as race relations, immigration, homelessness and poverty. Such events might include, events and fundraisers for non-profits that support the issues above (Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, Christian Outreach in Action, California Conference for Equality and Justice, The LGBTQ Center Long Beach, Urban Community Outreach, etc.)

The music selected for the monthly worship services will fit those services, but the remainder of the choir’s repertoire will be based entirely on whether that piece of music reflects the core principles of the choir: equity, inclusion, diversity, justice and peace. Priority will be given to pieces of music written or co-written by Unity Choir members or reflective of their personal life experience.  

To that end, one of the features of the choir will be periodic workshops and classes on songwriting, lyric and creative writing. There will also be an ESL class component for those choir members (immigrants and refugees, for instance) who may benefit from such classes.

Conversations about the choir are already happening between DeWitt and civic organizations like the Office of the Mayor of Long Beach, Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, the United Cambodian Community and the directors of the Tacoma Refugee Choir and of the Harmony Project in Columbus, Ohio, which also is a model the Unity Choir will seek to emulate. 

For interviews or more information about the Unity Choir project, contact Stan DeWitt, Minister of Music at Grace First Presbyterian Church at 562-972-3324 or stan.gracefirst@gmail.com.  In 2020, watch for the Unity Choir. Better yet, consider singing with us.


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