Since 1992, Aurora Chorus has honored the strength and beauty of women’s lives through the fine art of choral singing. Aurora was founded on the belief that music can be a powerful instrument of peace—locally, globally, and in the hearts of all who sing and all who listen.

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Want to avoid waiting in line to get your tickets? Want to surprise your sweetie with tickets to celebrate Winter Solstice? Order tickets online before 5pm, Tuesday, December 16, to receive them in the mail in time for the concerts on December 21.

Aurora Chorus will radiate comfort and joy in Light Is Returning, a concert coinciding with the Winter Solstice, the turning point of the solar year. Featuring songs of Earth Mother, of peace, hope and renewal, Aurora will be returning to some favorite works from the chorus’ rich seasonal repertoire. Poet and writer Kim Stafford joins us as our special guest. As always, you can expect a delightful diversity of the familiar and the new, unexpected twists on the traditional, creating choral magic for your holiday season. Buy tickets >>

Light Is Returning
Program Notes from Artistic Director Joan Szymko

Joan SzymkoAs we begin our concert, we inhabit the darkness of the season and explore its power and mystery. According to Sri Ramakrishna, a famed 19th-century Indian mystic, darkness is the ultimate Mother—Kali:

My Mother is the principle of consciousness. . . . The night sky between the stars is perfectly black. The waters of the ocean depths are the same; the infinite is always mysteriously dark. This inebriating darkness is my beloved Kali.

In our opening chant, From the Reaches of Darkness, poet (and former Aurora singer) Elly Worden reflects on the Solstice and on Mother Kali’s transformative powers as overseer of darkness (death) and rebirth. In the Hindu religion, Kali is a manifestation of the supreme Mother Goddess, Durga, who is honored in our next piece, the prayer chant Jai Bhavani, as divine Mother Earth. Some believe Kali/Durga to be one of the many Black Madonnas that exist in various locations throughout the world. Aurora’s celebration of the Divine Feminine then culminates with David MacIntyre’s meditative, ecstatic Ave Maria.

The image of mother and child is at the center of Christmas religious observance. Another familiar image is that of Joseph leading Mary and baby Jesus on a donkey in the desert night, refugees fleeing Bethlehem and the murderous wrath of King Herod. Coventry Carol tells the dark story from the book of Matthew of Herod’s brutal paranoia and his slaying of the innocents. Two thousand years later, there are many King Herods in the world, who will stop at nothing to maintain or gain a grip on power. As a result, today over 16 million people—half of them children—are refugees. It seems, as the lyrics go in our next piece, that “peace has hidden her lovely face and turned in tears away.” And yet here we remain, ever hopeful in this great season of returning light, gathering family and friends in homes filled with music and good food, with love and good will. Yes, for many of us gathered here, There Shall Be Christmas Day. This song is a setting of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Wartime Christmas,” which he wrote while serving on the front lines of France near the end of World War I. He was killed by a sniper’s bullet not long after penning this wartime ode to peace.

Originally performed by members of the Israeli Defense Forces in 1969, the song Shir Lashalom is now an anthem in the Israeli peace movement. Although penned for the military, its lyrics criticize songs of victory in war. Its refrain states, “Therefore sing only a song to peace with a great shout.” During his second term as prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was cut down by an assassin’s bullet just after having led the crowd in the singing of Shir LaShalom at a 1995 peace rally.

We now welcome our special guest artist, Oregon poet and author Kim Stafford. His 2004 poem “Friend: Download This Free Proclamation for Local Use” is the lyric to our next piece, Be It Therefore Resolved. In simple, true words, the poem transforms peace from an “abstraction” into a living, breathing action—a song. I was honored that he gave me permission to set this poem to music for a commission by the Congressional Chorus in Washington, D.C., in 2011. Aurora’s performance is the premiere of the setting for women’s voices. With stories and poetry, Stafford’s presentation will be the “hinge” between the darkness and the light.

Leonard Cohen, explaining the meaning of his song Anthem, wrote:

This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect. And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together, physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.

Anthem’s message of hope is clear and unsentimental and believable. Do what you can: “Ring the bells that still can ring.” The winter solstice is a kind of resurrection, a new beginning, even though it is the darkest hour. In our concert title song, Light Is Returning, we keep the “light of hope alive” for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for the planet. With the return of the light and the lengthening of days, our concert program gives way to the sun. Wendeyaho, popularized by Rita Coolidge as Cherokee Morning Song, has traditionally been sung by women as part of morning prayers, while facing the rising sun and welcoming the new day. The song is actually not in the Cherokee language, but is sung in a little-known Native American language, Tihanama. According to one of the remaining fluent speakers, the phrase wendeyaho means “Our hearts (spirits) are strong.”

Turn the World Around begins, “We come from the fire.” Harry Belafonte was inspired to write this song upon hearing a story, told by a village storyteller deep in the interior of the West African nation of Guinea, about how fire (the sun), the water, the earth, and Spirit together turn the world around. We are here for but a short time, and if we take the time to understand and care for each other, we together can “turn the world around.” Imagine it were so—the earth and the heavens would surely sing for joy! ¡El Cielo Canta Alegria! (Heaven Is Singing for Joy) brings us fully out of the dark and into the shining light that is there for each of us, and in each of us. The sun is always shining somewhere in December—if not in our beloved hometown, then somewhere in the Aloha state. Aurora takes you there with Honolulu Chorus.

No matter where you go or what holiday you celebrate this week, we send you off with the wise, practical, and enlightened Seven Principles of the African American/Pan-African holiday of Kwanzaa, celebrated from December 26 to January 1. The name Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase meaning “fruits of the harvest.” The message of Kwanzaa speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. May we all enjoy the fruits of our understanding as we seek to “know who we are” and to truly “see each other clearly.” Wishing you all light and beauty in the new year.

Photo of Joan Szymko by Steve Hambuchen

Kim Stafford on the Power of Words, Sung and Spoken
By Jeanne Krinsley

A spoken poem, a charm, a spell, a song can fill a room, fill a heart, crowd a mind with hope . . . we are stirred . . . we are moved. For the duration, we may dream the same dream.

Kim Stafford

This is what writer, teacher, filmmaker, and musician Kim Stafford told me during an interview about his extraordinary poem, “Friend: Download This Free Proclamation for Local Use.” During this concert you can look forward to hearing Stafford read from his work, as well as the chorus performing a musical setting of his poem, “Be It Therefore Resolved,” written by Artistic Director Joan Szymko.

Stafford’s poem is a testament to the healing power of poetry and song, although he told me that songs and poems come to him in quite different ways and have different effects:

Poems come to me every day. Now and then a song comes. It feels different, seems to be singing already. I remember walking late at night, in the rain, and hearing a song, in the voice of a homeless person, ringing in my mind. Rhyme is part of it. But the text for a song feels like it’s in a different language, our deepest, most native language. As a diva said once, we start life by singing—the child’s long wail is an aria. Some people stop singing as they grow, but fortunately others do not.

But a successful poem, Stafford added, is “a song in disguise. It may ring true even when spoken.” Still, he feels that a poem’s words set to music “[raise] the power of words exponentially.”

On the website of Lewis and Clark College’s Northwest Writing Institute, which Stafford directs, he states, “If communication is the fundamental alternative to violence and injustice, what is the work of each voice among us?” This is a question that each of us must answer for ourselves, a question that may take us a lifetime to answer. But in Stafford’s poem, he states:

Whereas I am free—despite all
fire and anger and fear;
Be it therefore resolved a song
shall be my calling—a song
not yet made shall be vocation
and peaceful words the work
of my remaining days.

“Composing words,” Stafford told me,

is one way to make at least this one part of our experience safe, positive, humane. . . . As children, when threatened, we would chant that primitive charm, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” The words like a magic spell felt like armor to me then. I grew up with the chorus “We shall overcome . . .” facing down guns and attack dogs. Since those days, I have felt my calling has been to put together words and songs, and to invite others to compose healing stories, as my own form of witness and testimony.

“To be a good citizen,” Stafford continued, “I would fill my days with kind words, and sing when I can, when the time is right.”

May we all, as Stafford has, find a calling that will lead us to write, sing, and work for peace.

Photo of Kim Stafford by Perrin Kerns

Support Aurora While Doing Your Regular Shopping

Fred Meyer Community RewardsYou can help Aurora Chorus earn donations just by shopping with your Fred Meyer Rewards Card!

Fred Meyer is donating $2.5 million per year to non-profits in the Northwest, based on where their customers tell them to give and we can get a piece of this donation pie. Here’s how the program works:

  • Sign up for the Community Rewards program by linking your Fred Meyer Rewards Card to Aurora Chorus. You can search for Aurora Chorus by name or by our non-profit number 88060.
  • Every time you shop and use your Rewards Card, you are helping Aurora Chorus earn a donation!
  • You still earn your Rewards Points, Fuel Points, and Rebates, just as you have been.
  • If you do not have a Rewards Card, they are available at the Customer Service desk of any Fred Meyer store.

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