New Alamo City Street Choir Lets Homeless Raise Voices in Song While Aiding Damaged Church

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Alamo City Street Choir singers perform "Lean on Me."

In late October, after a thunderstorm and heavy rains caused the roof of Travis Park Church’s youth building to collapse, Head Pastor Eric Vogt told his congregation that “God is our shelter in the storm.” Services continued outdoors until the flooded interior of the church could be restored to usability.

Regular services offered by the church’s Corazon Ministries to San Antonio’s homeless and migrant populations also have continued, though not without difficulty, including a temporary relocation to the now-shuttered Migrant Resource Center that had been operated by the City of San Antonio.

Now, through the efforts of a pair of musical siblings, the church and ministries will offer “Shelter in a Song,” a performance of the new Alamo City Street Choir, on Sunday, Dec. 8. Proceeds from the event will go toward roof repairs, rebuilding, and restoring supplies for Corazon Ministries.

The new choir, comprising members of the church’s congregation of homeless and needy people, will be joined by the Travis Park Sanctuary Choir and the San Antonio Chamber Choir. The event will take place at 3 p.m. in the church, with a suggested minimum donation of $15 at the door.

The street choir was initially inspired by the Dallas Street Choir, which siblings Tracey Bjella Powers and Rick Bjella, artistic director of the San Antonio Chamber Choir, saw perform earlier in 2019. The experience moved them to consider starting a similar project in San Antonio.

“We … dove down into our brains and souls and thought about the vision, the structure of what we wanted this to look like,” Powers said. As it happened, board members of Corazon Ministries also knew of the Dallas choir and wanted the same thing. Former board president Carol Gamble told Powers, “this is what my ‘peeps’ need,” she said.

Powers first brought her violin to weekly Corazon Ministries dinners for the homeless at the church, what she calls a “mindful choice … to incorporate a level of joy and into everything, because their lives, in general, I think are much harder than most of us.” She encouraged sing-alongs, and soon the choir started regular rehearsals with several participants.

They began singing together under her tutelage, and each week now perform a selection of spirituals and inspiring popular songs.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Tracy Bjella Powers, director of Alamo City Street Choir, gives a thumbs up during rehearsal.

Jonathan Palant, founding director of the Dallas Street Choir, said singing together provides a lift to people who need it most.

“This is their community,” he said. “This is their family, this is where they feel safe. This is where they can express themselves. This is where they can smile and laugh and it doesn’t matter what their personal journey has been. This is all about coming together to put a new face to homelessness.”

The Dallas choir began with about a dozen singers, Palant said, but gradually attracted more participants, and now regularly features between 70 and 90 singers. The choir is well-regarded nationally and is in demand, having performed nearly 100 concerts in Dallas and other cities in its five years of existence, including a 2015 concert at Carnegie Hall, and a show in San Antonio for the 2018 Texas Choral Directors Association conference.

The Alamo City Street Choir might one day seek such lofty goals, but for now, Powers said she expects 20 street choir participants for the Shelter in a Song performance. They will join two dozen chamber choristers and the sanctuary choir’s 20 members. She said not only will her choir members learn from the professional singers, but “this will be a beautiful two-way street.”

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Alamo City Street Choir participant James Brown leads the group with a solo.

Shelter in a Song will join other fundraising efforts, including an ongoing GoFundMe campaign, to help pay for repairs to the youth building and church and to restore supplies used to clothe and feed the program’s participants.

“Unfortunately when the roof collapse happened, our clothing reserves were damaged and we’ve had to start building up our supply from scratch,” wrote board President Kristin Salazar in an email. “If the concert raises even $1,000, that will go a long way to helping us purchase the clothing items our guests truly need right now,” during the colder winter months, she said. 

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