After a beat, a confession.
“I do feel despair sometimes,” said Lynn Nowak, “about what’s happening,” 50 years after the assassination of human rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Nowak is part of something, though, that acts as both balm and tonic.
The Port Townsend Community Chorus is about to give two concerts of music: deep and lighthearted, from the Beatles to the spirituals. Nowak, an alto, is one among 100 singers, together since midwinter, to form one of the largest choruses in years.
“His Light Still Shines: Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights and Songs of the ’60s” comes to First Presbyterian Church, 1111 Franklin St., Port Townsend, at 7 p.m. Friday and to the Chimacum High School auditorium, 91 West Valley Road, Chimacum, at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The latter venue was chosen because the chorus is so big. They will spill off the stage at the Presbyterian Church, but have plentiful room in Chimacum, Nowak said, along with pianist Lisa Lanza, drummer Jim Goldberg, concertina man Otto Smith, violinist Kristin Smith and flutist Dana Africa.
Tickets are on sale at Crossroads Music in Port Townsend and www.brownpapertickets.com (search for Port Townsend Community Chorus); if still available they will be sold at the door. The suggested donation is $15, and information awaits at http://ptchorus.org/.
Preparing for all of this, Nowak said, helps.
“Singing always helps,” and she hopes the people who come to hear it will likewise feel her passion for this music.
“Like a Mighty Stream,” “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” and a medley of song and spoken word, “His Light Still Shines,” are among the first half’s numbers, and then the chorus changes out of concert-black attire into tie-dye and flowers for the second half.
They stroll back out to the stage 1960s street scene-style, holding signs that say “Flower Power” and such, and proceed to sing “Let the Sunshine In,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Age of Aquarius.”
“We do ‘All You Need Is Love’ toward the end — that’s kind of what it’s all about,” added Leslie Lewis, conductor of the community chorus.
This time, she’s bringing a flock of other singers into the mix: the Port Townsend Youth Chorus, 35 kids age 6 and older; the Singers in the Rain, a men’s ensemble; and the Wild Rose Chorale, to offer the a cappella song “MLK” from U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire” album.
Lewis brought in Phyllis Byrdwell, music minister at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle and director of the University of Washington Gospel Choir, to work on the spirituals.
This was a response to the question “What are a bunch of white people doing singing African American music?” as Lewis put it.
But Byrdwell didn’t say “OK, you’ve got to sound more black.”
Instead she guided the singers deeper into the meaning of the text — inside the soul of each song.
“It was a good learning experience,” Lewis said, “for all of us.”
Lanza, accompanist to the chorus, faces the singers as she plays. The rehearsals have already transported her.
“This particular program evokes so many emotions, which I see expressed in each choir member,” she said.
“This makes me feel especially connected.”
“Music has always been there to console people, to uplift them,” added Lewis, noting that the African American songs are key to the experience.
“There is such a spiritual depth,” she said.
One last signpost on this concert road comes in the finale: “Lean on Me/We Shall Overcome.”
Choral music, Lewis said, is a collaboration among singers, on stage and in the seats.
“We all depend on each other.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.