How do you tell the rich story of an organization like the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra, which has involved hundreds of people over the course of 50 years?
A little over a year ago, the incomparable Betty Pigford, alto, and development wizard for the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra, and my former business partner, Karen Davison (then president of BCCO), approached me about making a short film for BCCO’s 50th anniversary celebration. As we talked, we decided that maybe a film wasn’t quite the right solution. A film would allow us to include only a limited number of voices. Who decides which voices will be heard, which memories and perspectives will be included?
I’ve sung with BCCO off and on for the past 14 years, and was intrigued by finding a way to truly represent the chorus’s unusual history. Founded in 1966 by Eugene Jones — the first African American conductor of a large Bay Area chorus and orchestra — BCCO is now a chorus of more than 200 non-auditioned singers. BCCO performs two major symphonic choral works each year — and concerts are always free to the public.
I’m really interested in forms of storytelling that allow broad participation by the community whose stories are being told. A few years ago, Karen and I spent a fascinating couple of years working with a coalition in East Palo Alto on a community health social marketing project, Get Fit East Palo Alto. By the end of the project, more than 100 people’s voices had been heard, telling often very moving stories about their efforts to gain and maintain good health.
This gave us an idea—and we created StoryChorus, a project true to BCCO’s mission: provide a place where all are welcome to participate, regardless or experience or training. No auditions.
Over the past few months, we’ve developed a project that uses the multiple talents of BCCO’s extraordinary membership. It is hosted online, to make it accessible to the broad community. There are moving tributes to members of the community, humorous memories, reflections on the three music directors, historical photos and recordings, videos, and more. The true heart of StoryChorus are the storytellers who are stepping up with their stories. They are singers, orchestra members, audience members, music staff—people from all eras and aspects of BCCO’s extended family.
Alto Rita Bral has perhaps best expressed the hope for this communal storytelling effort, that it will be “a real monument to the meaning and mission of BCCO, having brought—and still bringing—the joy of singing to everybody.”
So check out StoryChorus to enjoy some BCCO tales. Feel free to contribute, if you’re inspired! Plus, StoryChorus has provided a platform for documenting 50th anniversary events. The fall 2015 concert series was a retrospective of the chorus’s musical history. In spring 2016, the anniversary celebration will culminate in three performances of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. You can see, read, and listen to reports on this benchmark year.
A special note of thanks: StoryChorus was built with WordPress, an open source content management system. I had some WordPress experience, but stumbled onto an extraordinary group in Oakland that helped me raise the project to a whole new level: TechLiminal, a hands-on technology coaching for web, cloud, and mobile tech in a fabulous co-working space. I met the extraordinary Anca Mosoiu, founder, at my annual trek to She’s Geeky, the women-in-tech “Unconference.” I’ve overcome my fear of code, and gained a community of smart, creative, and really fun colleagues. Thanks to all of you—Anca, Pieter, Eve, Tumikia, Sue, Nick, Amanda, and the many others who I’m forgetting to list right now!