Womansong of Asheville: Creating Community Through Song, Caring and Service
By Mirra Price
“Who cares about the clouds when we’re together? Just sing a happy song and bring the sunny weather.”—Dale Evans, “Happy Trails”.
In today’s fast-paced, complex society in which there doesn’t seem to be time enough to do everything, people may feel stress when trying to balance work, family, and other responsibilities. We may sometimes identify with Sisyphus of Ancient Greece, who was perennially trying to roll a boulder up a hill, but which always fell back down again. It is easy to feel like we are just going through the motions of living, caught up in activities, but not feeling authentic connection with others.
Even after winning the vote in the 1920s, organizing the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, getting legislation passed which helps to give social equality to women, women are still oppressed. We earn much less than men; we are less represented in high-level management positions; we make up less than 20 percent of Congress; we are still victims of domestic violence and rape in alarming numbers; we still have most of the responsibility for children; and many of us feel isolated and marginalized.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, many women felt invisible, locked into traditional gender roles. Nowadays women do work outside the home, have entered the military, and have more opportunities than did women in the past; however, women are sometimes alienated from one another, keeping up with the demands of our lives by trying to be Superwomen.
When women gather together, whether it’s for quilting, playing cards, having book clubs, or making music, bonds of connection, love and support are formed among participants. There are similarities between women singing together and with the consciousness-raising groups of fifty years ago. In Prout (Progressive Utilization Theory), we speak of this community-building among women who work for social justice as an example of cultural grass roots organizing. Local, cohesive, socially and politically active grass roots groups can serve as a base to connect with other such groups for networking with larger movements for equality and social justice.
Womansong is Asheville, North Carolina’s largest and longest-running community chorus. While the main purpose of the chorus is to be a choral singing group, it serves many other functions for its members, some of which are: community, social service and advocating for social justice. In a series of interviews with chorus members this past spring, the women who make up Womansong of Asheville have expressed their feelings about the chorus we all love.
Linda Metzner, Womansong founder, director from 1987-1994, explains: “The thought of women singing together in harmony filled me with delight…forming community for each other, and that feeling of “village” is sorely missing in many women’s lives today.”
In 1994 Debbie Nordeen became director of Womansong, and is still serving in that position. She discusses her goals for the chorus: “to continue to sing songs together that stir the soul—that bring harmony to the soul and shine light on issues of social justice.”
Womansong also has two assistant directors, Althea Gonzalez and Sarah Rubin.
Womansong performs two major public concerts a year and sings at several local events. The experience of rehearsing the music for these concerts is sometimes joyful, sometimes tiring, but it is always rewarding. Patty Chakales says, “We have such good leadership that my fears seem to melt away when we take our positions and Debbie gives us a great big smile and Lyte plays our first chord.”
Besides rehearsals and performances, Womansong is also a village, a community of women who help one another, providing support, offering encouragement and assistance to our sisters in song. Roberta Newman, a founding member, states,”We find comfort, support and healing for one another in times of illness and/or grief. We have social events…We share plants for our gardens… clothing, books…”
Assistant director Althea Gonzalez says, “When one has a strong nest, one can fly confidently. Knowing that I have this nest helps me in other parts of my life.”
Part of Womansong’s mission is to work for social justice through song. Assistant director Sarah Rubin says, “I was in consciousness raising groups. I think there are similarities—the sense of sisterhood, in Womansong the bonds we have are similar to the bonds I felt within these groups.”
Another way that Womansong works for social justice is with direct support through its own charity—The New Start Program. Begun by Linda Metzner, it has expanded to giving not only small grants to women in the community who are in transition, but also to giving scholarships to women in local colleges. Marilyn Hubbard, New Start Program Co-chair, states:
I really feel [The New Start Program] is what sets Womansong apart from most other choruses… We have in the past ten years given over $100,000…We are giving funds to three area institutions: Haywood, Blue Ridge and AB Tech Community Colleges.
Womansong’s repertoire is varied, consisting of light hearted, fun songs and some with serious themes. Local composer, Robin Cape’s Zen Cowgirl” https://youtu.be/T3HkMXfmsvY , Dale Evan’s “Happy Trails” https://youtu.be/Ojd01kjbAEc , and Erik Lane Barnes’ “Caffeine Overload Polka”, https://youtu.be/gbquuupdVPY are fun and light-hearted. More serious themed songs include: “Tender Lady” by Margie Adam, https://youtu.be/CMqt5tQfNmk “I Come From Women” by Amy Carol Webb, https://youtu.be/SofJq9DRoE8 and “My Sisters” by Womansong’s own accompanist and songwriter, Lytingale. https://youtu.be/_FU-uP8fU3o
Womansong carries a powerful message of concern for the well-being, empowerment and leadership of today’s women by its support of feminist messages through a strong cohesive, supportive community, also bringing inspiring music and a feeling of oneness to its audiences and to the larger community through beautiful, uplifting performances.
Mirra Price, a retired English teacher, who, besides loving to sing, currently is a writer, editor and copyeditor. An activist and Proutist, she has worked in cooperatives, for many social justice causes, and has advocated for women’s rights and gender equality since the 1960s.