Community groups are up in arms in San Francisco about Proposition L — the proposed Sit-Lie Law on San Francisco’s November 2010 ballot, which, if passed, would mean that no one may sit or lie on a city side walk after 11 pm at night. One of the less likely outcomes of the news is the formation of a new vocal group.
Established by Dr. Kathleen McGuire, (pictured), the conductor of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, Singers of the Streets (SOS) will bring homeless people and other people who like to sing together to protest the proposition and provide a social outlet.
McGuire is resigning from the Gay Men’s Chorus this year to pursue this project, as well as an expanded role at the Community Women’s Orchestra in Oakland and a new job as Officer of Culture for the Federation of Gay Games.
Inspired by the success of similar groups in Australia, Canada, Texas and the UK, McGuire hopes that SOS will:
1. Provide participants with a strong sense of purpose, achievement, team-building, socialization, community, and family.
2. Build participants’ self-esteem, self-worth and self-respect via audience appreciation.
3. Give audiences a positive, personal, and human experience of people who are homeless and disadvantaged.
“With so many people being homeless in San Francisco, I’ve long thought that a group like this was something that we should start here,” said McGuire. The Metropolitan Community Church Foundation approached the conductor two and a half years ago about launching a choir with homeless singers, but McGuire had too full a work schedule to devote her attentions to getting such a choir off the ground. “It was when I heard about Prop L, that I decided that I couldn’t put the plan off any longer. That was the final straw. I told the Foundation that I’d start up the choir as a volunteer,” McGuire said. “It’s time for us to take a stand — or a sit — as the case may be.”
The immediate goal for SOS is to work in tandem with Prop L protest groups such as “Sidewalks are for the People” to get Prop L overturned. The group will have its first rehearsal at the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco (MCCSF), located at 150 Eureka Street in the Castro neighborhood, on Wednesday September 8 from 11-1 pm. A free lunch will be provided by the Foundation. Subsequent meetings will follow the same pattern. The first performance is likely to take place at a fundraiser for Prop L opposers in October, the details of which are still be hammered out.
McGuire sees Prop L as an impetus to launch the group, but hopes to keep it going long beyond a resolution is fount for that particular piece of civil legislation. The main aim is to make music and forge a sense of community. To that end SOS will perform a diverse repertoire of popular songs in different styles. Numbers that the conductor might start with include such Prop L-astute tracks as “Sign, Sign Everywhere a Sign,” “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and “Just a Stranger on a Bus.”
McGuire plans to teach the music by call and response, using a guitar and the services of a volunteer pianist to assist in rehearsals. “People might not read music, so we’ll sing things that are easy for people to catch on to in unison.”
While some community organizations in San Francisco offer homeless and disadvantaged people opportunities to sing together, SOS will be different in that McGuire insists on a clear performance focus. “It’s not just about participation,” she says. “The choir’s members are people who are normally ignored, so it’s important that they are visible in the community and receive accolades for their singing. The first performance will very likely be rough around the edges, but the point is to get out there are be seen and help boost people’s self-esteem.”