By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
Scary. Dirty. Crazy. Dangerous!
Considering those common stereotypes of the homeless population, you might have thought some members of Bishop Lynch High School’s Friar Choir were less than enthusiastic about participating in a regular collaboration that director Kathy Leos began arranging with the Dallas Street Choir about 2½ years ago.
“My preconceptions of homelessness were completely thrown out the window,” senior Lucia Colindres said of her first participation in a joint rehearsal years ago in downtown Dallas’ First Presbyterian Church, across the street from The Stewpot shelter. “I remember the ambiance, the energy in the room being very positive. Very uplifting.”
“A lot of the members (of the street choir) will tell their stories, and it really shows that though they have no physical things that they can call their own they still have something they can teach us,” said fellow senior Sofia Murgola. “As students, I think that’s the best gift that we can receive.”
A shared mission
Leos, Lynch’s choir director since 1984, discovered a kindred spirit in Dr. Jonathan Palant. He’s The University of Texas at Dallas’ choral director and music minister at Kessler Park United Methodist Church. Palant founded the street choir in 2014 with the mantra “Homeless, Not Voiceless.”
“I was really taken with how he talked about starting the choir because he wanted to give people who were affected by homelessness a chance to feel worth and dignity,” Leos said. “I knew that was exactly what was behind my mission as a Catholic educator as well, to form students who will go out into the world to live the Gospel values.”
The street choir rehearses for an hour every Wednesday morning; Leos assists at most practices. On Wednesday, Sept. 21, she brought choir members for the fourth time to participate in a joint session – 28 students singing literally side by side with 27 homeless people.
“Look at each other!” Palant urged the ensemble. “See each other!”
As the homeless filed out, Friar Choir members provided the street choir with bagged lunches, reading glasses for those who wanted them, and uplifting notes written by Bishop Lynch students.
Afterward, Palant noted, “The very person that’s ignored and invisible at the traffic light is the person that receives a standing ovation when (audiences) hear the choir sing.”
The street group attracted national attention with a performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2017. When Laura Bush took in its appearance at Hamon Hall in Dallas’ Winspear Opera House, the former First Lady came on stage and joined in the closing number.
This November, the street choir will perform in Bishop Lynch’s auditorium for the first time, in front of what figures to be a packed house of about 350.
Tears welled in Leos’ eyes after the Sept. 21 session. Maybe that explains why she compares these collaborations to the Friar Choir’s trips to Rome, which have included singing at an Epiphany Mass with the Pope.
“We’ve had those really mountain-top experiences,” she said, “but our work with the street choir I would say most definitely is also a mountain-top experience. We actually see and break down stereotypes and misconceptions and have an opportunity to share the art of music with others.”