SURREY — My first clue was the rehearsal space – a fourth floor room at the Surrey School Board District Education Centre on 92nd Avenue. Don’t choirs generally practise their chops in… churches?
My second clue was right there in the lyrics of the very first song they sang after I arrived, called “Would You Harbor Me?”
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew?
Would you harbor an exile or a refugee, or person living with AIDS?
Would you harbor a Haitian, Korean or Czech, a lesbian or a gay?
This was most definitely not your typical choir.
And this Saturday at the Surrey City Hall Atrium, they’d love to show you what they’re all about.
Carol Sirianni is the leader and creator of “Aequitas,” as the group is named, and she has quite the story to tell.
It begins in the late 1990s, when, as a new instructor in the Coquitlam School District, she repeatedly “watched the bullying of students and teachers.” She also noticed that much of the bullying came at the expense of gay and lesbian students. It hit her hard.
As a music teacher and lover of all things melodic, Sirianni figured she could make a difference – through song.
“I saw a way to make an impact by showing them how to become activists rather than victims.”
In 2001, Sirianni formed “GLASS” (Gay Lesbian And Supportive Singing), a choir based more upon social justice than religion.
“Social justice,” she explains, “has been part of my life for 20 years – as a teacher, as a mother, as a choir conductor. It includes but isn’t limited to poverty, violence against women, homophobia, aboriginal education, racism, and global stewardship.”
STORY CONTINUES BELOW
GLASS thrived for a decade, until “it was put on hiatus” when Sirianni moved to Surrey to ultimately become what she is today, the Fine Arts Helping Teacher for Surrey Schools. Soon enough, she re-jigged the GLASS concept, but this time for 19-plus adults, and called it Aequitas (Latin for “Justice”).
Like GLASS before it, Aequitas is all-inclusive. And that in itself has created issues.
“We’re open to everyone,” she says. “And it’s interesting. I’ve been asked before at competitions ‘How come you have straights singing with gays?’ I haven’t been allowed on committees because we won’t choose a specific bias.”
That unbiased message of social justice is just fine with the Aequitas membership.
Steve Goodman of Maple Ridge, whose day job is managing the Bell Performing Arts Centre, has been there since its start in 2014.
“I think we’re looking to shine a light on issues we think are important in our society. People come here to find something they can’t find anywhere else,” he says.
“But it’s also brought back a love that I forgot I had. I’d forgotten that I loved to sing when I was young. You get older, you get wrapped up with things.”
Goodman says Saturday’s show is much more than singing – and listening to – music.
“This next concert of ours, we’ll bring people together. We’ll have tables for people who work with youth at risk. So people who see our performance can also have some refreshments afterward and mix and mingle with folks who work in our society with these groups, and maybe make some connection out of that.”
Surrey’s Shawn Ewing sings, partly, because she believes in the community. Together with her wife a longtime resident of downtown Vancouver, Ewing says their move east to Surrey has been a pleasant surprise.
“We bought a house in Surrey and we’ve been absolutely accepted here. We were called out so many times when we were downtown, but zero times in Surrey.”
Ewing says she believes Aequitas is a “missing link” of sorts and is an awesome place for young people to find a voice.
But most of all, she says, “This choir makes you feel good.”
“Turn Out 2016 – Songs of Hope” goes Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. Get them at the City of Surrey Box Office, either online or by calling 604-501-5566.