How did the choir get its name?
The choir began as a response to the refugee crisis in Europe in 2016 and a desire to support those who might resettle in Tacoma. We respect that the word “refugee” can be painful for many.
When asking the question “When does one cease to be a refugee?,” one member responded with, “When you feel like you belong.” In that way, our name is a misnomer (incorrectly applied name). Our goal is to ensure that all who join us feel they belong, so that they can find freedom from being a refugee.
Our mission remains focused on reaching out to the refugee community and providing a space of love, hope and belonging. We feel that our name provides an opportunity to reach a community that is often excluded and needs support and provides a platform to shift the narrative of refugees to one of hope and inspiration.
What is a refugee?
The United Nations defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” It is worth noting that refugees undergo a rigorous 14-step screening process to be admitted to the United States. As we accept this objective definition of being a “refugee”, we must recognize there are many other paths by which members have come to this country to escape difficult circumstances including migrants, asylum seekers, and immigrants. We want to honor and welcome all of these experiences.
Who is an asylum seeker? An asylum seeker is someone who is also seeking international protection from dangers in his or her home country, but whose claim for refugee status hasn’t been determined legally. Asylum seekers must apply for protection in the country of destination—meaning they must arrive at or cross a border in order to apply. Then, they must be able to prove to authorities there that they meet the criteria to be covered by refugee protections. Not every asylum seeker will be recognized as a refugee.
Who is an immigrant? An immigrant is someone who makes a conscious decision to leave his or her home and move to a foreign country with the intention of settling there.
Who is a migrant? A migrant is someone who is moving from place to place (within his or her country or across borders), usually for economic reasons such as seasonal work.
Is this a religious ensemble?
Our organization does not align with any specific religion. We want our spaces to be welcoming to people of all spiritualities, regardless of religion or lack thereof. Our current practice space at Unity of South Sound is a paid rental and does not reflect the religious beliefs of all our members.
Who in your choir is a refugee/asylum-seeker/immigrant?
We will not comment on the status of our members and leave it to the discretion of our members if they choose to share their stories. Our staff and volunteers are required to sign a confidentiality agreement protecting the privacy of our members. We will never release personal information without permission.
How often do you meet?
We meet every Tuesday from 7-8:30pm at Unity of South Sound at 710 S. Anderson St. We are currently meeting in person. With that said, we do not meet for rehearsal in the months of July and August, so that our members and staff can rest and rejuvenate. This also gives our staff time to travel for professional development. With that said, we do still host fun get togethers occasionally over the summer so that we can stay connected. Our annual rehearsal calendar runs September through June.
How much does it cost to join?
Nothing. We work very hard to ensure that the choir is free to all participants.
How do I join the choir?
No audition is required. We do ask that you contact us before attending by filling out the following form: https://refugeechoir.dm.networkforgood.com/forms/join-the-choir
What happens during rehearsals?
We are a very loving community, so rehearsals often begin with hugs and conversation and sometimes will include games to connect with one another. Practices are conducted in a circle as we invite everyone to be seen and heard as we engage with one another and get to know each other. We sing many of our favorite songs weekly and often learn a new song written by a choir member or introduced by a choir member from their tradition. Choir members are highly encouraged to dance, drum, improvise and engage with one another in the high energy pieces and to share their thoughts and emotions on the more introspective pieces. We end every rehearsal singing and dancing to “Everyone Can Love Someone”. Conversations often extend for a long time after the music ends as people share their needs and work with choir friends to resolve those challenges and be emotionally supported.
What songs do you sing?
We sing a mix of songs recommended by choir members and our director. Increasingly, we sing songs written with members of the choir. At our November concert, ten of the songs were originals by members of the choir.
How many people are in the choir?
We welcome new people nearly every week and currently maintain contact with about 170 people who attend at least occasionally and consider themselves members of the choir. We will typically see about 40-55 people at rehearsals and 35 at performances.
Who is in the choir? Do I have to be a refugee to be in the choir?
The Tacoma Refugee Choir welcomes people from all walks of life, both refugee and non-refugee, but the choir exists to support the voices refugees and immigrants, as well as the children of refugees and immigrants. We ask all who attend to be aware of their role and to recognize when we might need to make space to ensure these voices are heard and amplified. If you want to be a part of a joyful community united in music and singing and to support this mission, we hope you will consider joining.
Do I need musical training?
Most of our members do not have any former musical training or experience; we believe that everyone has a voice to contribute. Regardless of skill, many members who previously “couldn’t sing” have managed to find their voice with us. To make this a more equitable space for creating together, we follow many world music traditions and generally do not use sheet music, instead relying on aural tradition (learning by ear) for many songs. Performances are not mandatory.
I can’t sing. What other ways can I get involved?
We believe that EVERYONE can sing. Most of the members of the choir come with little or no musical experience. We encourage you to attend a Singalong and see the magic in person. However, if that’s just not your cup of tea, you can help in other ways: attend concerts, volunteer as an usher at an event or to supervise children during our rehearsals, share your immigrant story with us, share content on social media, or donate to help us continue building our unique community.
What can I do to help refugees in my community?
We believe some of the simplest acts of kindness have the biggest impact: Smile at new people and introduce yourself, host a fun event in your neighborhood for everyone, volunteer with us at TRC or with an organization that is helping refugees, such as Tacoma Community House, donate money to a cause that helps refugees in Tacoma. We encourage you to stand up and call out xenophobia just as you would express your support for the contributions of communities who are frequently maligned or face discrimination.