When the pandemic started in 2020, choirs quickly canceled rehearsals, notifying singers by email, phone call or text message. It wasn’t so easy for the Dallas Street Choir, a choir made up of people experiencing homelessness.
“We had to put up signs in our rehearsal space saying the rehearsal has been canceled until further notice as we don’t have access to our singers like other choirs would via email or phone,” said Jonathan Palant, conductor of the Dallas Street Choir.
With rehearsals resuming and performances scheduled, the choir is hoping for community support during North Texas Giving Day, an online donation campaign on September 22.
“Nonprofits are honestly still reeling from 2020,” said Chris McSwain, director of community engagement for North Texas Giving Day. “This year, we encouraged people to find their passion and give with purpose.”
Before the pandemic, the Dallas Street Choir sang at Carnegie Hall and performed regularly in public. Unable to rehearse, Palant reconsidered how the organization could continue to serve while remaining true to its mission of providing a place for those affected by homelessness to experience music. Palant hosted 26 midday concerts featuring professional musicians at Dallas hideaways like The Bridge.
“These ranged from everything from solo harp to jazz trios, string quartets from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, pop artists with electric piano, solo jazz saxophone with a karaoke track, and more. Our goal was just to bring the arts and music to those who wouldn’t otherwise get it,” Palant said.
Beginning in the summer of 2020, Palant worked with SMU film student Cullen Blanchfield to create a series of shorts featuring the choir. The films range from a response to the murder of George Floyd to a lighthearted collaboration with British a cappella octet, Voces8, for a rendition of Here is the sun, to feature stories of how the singers were coping during the pandemic.
“The feeling of isolation is still very much in the homeless community, but people are isolated in different parts of the community, in different areas. It’s not just there anymore, at Park Avenue and Young Street,” Palant said. “But there was no despair. Those who live on the streets are resilient. They have a strong will.
In July 2021, the Dallas Street Choir returned to in-person rehearsals at First Presbyterian Church in Dallas with six feet between singers. The choir also provided vaccines to singers who wanted them. The resumption of rehearsals nourished the spirit of the singers.
“What we do is complement the soul,” Palant said.
The choir is smaller, dropping from 70 members before the pandemic to 28-31 singers currently. This small size has been advantageous.
“The sense of community that we have, there is more sense of continuity among our members. The singers return. Those who are there come back every week,” Palant said. “The sense of family – we got to know each other a lot better because we’re smaller.”
The choir is back on stage. The group auditioned and was later invited to sing for the American Choral Directors Association’s Southwest Region Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas earlier this year.
“We had about three standing ovations at different points in our program,” Palant said.
The choir recently sang at Grand Central Station, a Sherman nonprofit serving the homeless. The choir members tell Palant that they feel like each performance is better than the last.
“They are so grateful to have these experiences,” Palant said. “They feel seen.”
Palant looks forward to the choir’s series of lectures and demonstrations on singing, music and community at Bishop Lynch High School this fall.
“I think the future is education. I think the future teaches others that even if we stay on the streets or in a shelter, we are no less than,” Palant said.
Advance giving for North Texas Giving Day began September 1.
“We love to welcome September with that spirit of giving, with that spirit of celebration and also giving people more time,” McSwain said. “They have a few weeks to not only donate to a number of organizations, but to spend time using the website to learn more about other organizations they might want to support.”
Palant hopes North Texas Giving Day donors will recognize what an asset the Dallas Street Choir is to the community.
“When people look and find arts organizations and nonprofits, they see an arts organization like no other in our city. It’s so unique,” Palant said. “Being part of all these different artistic groups justifies the work we do.”
North Texas Giving Day funds will help the choir pay for travel expenses like hotel stays and meals as well as music purchases and special events so the choir can celebrate the holidays as a community.
“One hundred percent of North Texas Giving Day dollars go directly into our programming and programs for our choir members,” Palant said.
Every gift makes a difference.
“We really want more people to see North Texas Giving Day as an opportunity to express their philanthropic passions,” McSwain said. “Our goal is to get more people to see themselves as agents of change in our region.”
The value of a donation is more than monetary.
“It would be wonderful to earn a dollar more than last year, to have the community realize that the work we’re doing is full of good intentions, that we’ve been doing it since late 2014, that it’s not a project,” , Palant said. “It’s a mission, it’s a ministry, it’s a community enterprise that serves those who need and want it.”
Learn more: North Texas Giving Day