Since its founding in 1985, The Seattle Peace Chorus has acted on its mission to communicate through music the desire for a just and peaceful world. Through musical citizen diplomacy, the chorus builds bridges with people in countries where our governments have become alienated. While international tensions and political struggles between governments threaten our future and heighten anxiety, the chorus reaches out to ordinary citizens through music to soothe fear and inspire harmonious relationships.
The Seattle Peace Chorus arrived in Cuba during the mourning period for Fidel Castro, which meant that musical activities had to be rescheduled for a few days. After that time we sang every day in workshops, performances, or visits to schools. We sang with five top choirs in Cuba, visited artists and music schools and connected with people through song. We participated in Gospel workshops led by Kent Stevenson, which were met with enthusiasm by the Cuban choirs. We focused on person-to-person diplomacy, and had a marvelous time making friends with the warm and generous people we met in Cuba.
The choir traveled to Havana, Mantazas, Santa Clara, Sancti Spiritus, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and back to Havana. For an overview of the trip, watch here.
Si Somos Americanos (We Are ALL Americans) Tour
The Chorus embarked on a two-week citizen-to-citizen diplomacy trip to Chile and Argentina with the Global Exchange in August 2013. Our goal for this trip, and for all the singing and peace work we engage in, was to “communicate through music the desire for a just and peaceful world.” Most of us have been drawn to the Seattle Peace Chorus and its work out of a love of music and a belief that person-to-person peace efforts work. The universality of music opens our hearts and provides us with a common ground and a common language. When our hearts are open, we are interested in and willing to make the effort to understand someone else—their history, their culture, their hopes and dreams. We can appreciate our common humanity and are inspired to search out and work for peaceable solutions to any conflicts that may arise between us. The Seattle Peace Chorus has been promoting peace and justice in this way, both locally and globally, for thirty years.
A video documents the event, which you can watch here.
Over Labor Day weekend in 2008, the Seattle Peace Chorus made a special journey. Previously, almost all SPC trips were abroad. This time, the destination, Saint Paul, Minnesota, site of the Republican National Convention, was within the United States. Convinced our message of peace through song needed to be heard in our own country, we decided to join other peace activists seeking to amplify an alternative narrative to the one that would be televised from the Republican National Convention.
Leading up to our decision to make this trip were two concerts that deepened our concerns about the terrible toll of our country’s protracted wars.
At our 2006 annual spring concert, we sang Mozart’s Requiem dedicating our performance to all who lost their lives, military and civilian, in the Iraq War. It was a sobering experience highlighted by individuals in the audience and chorus members reading simultaneously the names of the deceased, men, women and children.
The next spring concert, we premiered a new composition “Let America Be America Again,” composed by our director Fred West, based on lyrics from a poem by Langston Hughes. Inspired, the chorus felt compelled to take this music to a place where our voices could be raised on the national level.
We figuratively packed our music and jumped on “The Peace Train” to bring our plea to “Let America Be America Again” to the Twin Cities, Minnesota. We performed two formal concerts with full orchestra and a noted local baritone soloist and sang at the National Convention for Veterans for Peace.
After our performances, some members stayed on to join a peace march along with thousands of people demanding an end to the US military intervention in the Middle East and supporting a different direction for the country.
Seattle Peace Chorus members are singing ambassadors waging peace and fostering social justice through music. In that spirit, the chorus visited Venezuela in the summer of 2007 to promote good will, learn about current efforts to further social welfare and economic justice, gain perspective, and offer friendship through song and conversation. The experience cultivated deeper understanding of Venezuela, its culture, its people; invaluable insights to share when the chorus returned.
The chorus performed at the International Choral Festival on Isla de Margarita in June and received the “people’s choice” award for Si Somos Americanos, voted best song of the festival.
A video documents the event, which you can watch here.
2006 Richland, Washington
The Peace Chorus traveled to Richland, Washington, to perform a joint concert with the Shalom Choir of the Shalom United Church of Christ Choir. The event was followed by a dialogue with members of the congregation on ways to further peace and social justice.
Our ongoing focus on peace and music took us on a humanitarian trip to Cuba again to participate in the VII Festival Internacional de Coros (Seventh International Choral Festival) in Santiago. It was another amazing, challenging, and moving experience, strengthening our belief in the power of music. Before our trip, we held our fall concert, performing the repertoire we would be doing in Cuba.
In December, we sang in the International Choral Festival in Santiago de Cuba with 20 choirs from all over the world. We traveled around Cuba as “citizen diplomats” to build good will between US and Cuban people. Under the direction of Mark Kloepper and Pam Gerke, the chorus gave 12 wonderful musical performances! We were broadcast live on Cuban radio. We touched the lives of thousands of Cubans. In addition, we brought and donated lots of needed medical supplies.
The Seattle Peace Chorus traveled to Chile in 1995 and has an ongoing affinity for the Chilean people. The Peace Chorus performed the great masterpiece Canto General as part of the Neruda centenary celebrations, which were held worldwide in 2004-2005. Some background, from founder Helen Laurtizen:
“We urged Waldo Aranguiz* to invite the Vladimir Chamber Choir to Chile as well as the Seattle Peace Chorus. The idea of both groups going there together had been hatched during our 1992 trip to Russia. Sergio Urrutia [a Peace Chorister from Chile] was with us and we realized that the Chilean people had been gravely impacted by the Cold War. Having Russian and American choirs travel there together would be highly symbolic. So Waldo Aranguiz set up an international choral festival to which both choirs were invited. Each choir traveled separately to various parts of the country and then came together in Santiago for the Festival. We weren’t sure the Vladimir chamber Choir was going to be able to get the govt. help they needed to make the trip, so we wrote a formal letter to President Yeltsin and had it given to him at the luncheon in Olympia.”
*Helen Lauritzen met Waldo Aranguiz, a Chilean choral director, at an international choral symposium in Vancouver, B.C. in 1993. She invited him to conduct the Peace Chorus’ Espiritu de las Americas concert in Seattle in 1994.
Seattle Songbridge, a forty-voice multi-ethnic choir, was formed to accompany, by invitation, the Vladimir Chamber Choir on a tour of the “Golden Ring,” a group of small towns and villages in the heart of Russia. On this journey, choristers deepened old friendships and expanded to new ones. The chorus later performed at the opening of the first U.S. Russian consulate in Seattle.
1988 Soviet Union
The chorus was invited to return to the Soviet Union and sing with Soviet choruses, and so embarked on their second trip to the USSR. In Leningrad, the chorus performed at a seminary, sharing the stage with seminarians and female choral instructors. They then traveled to Moscow, where they performed to standing-room-only crowds.The audience seemed very eager and excited to meet Americans. The song they all knew and sang with the chorus was “We Shall Overcome.” The chorus then traveled to Vladimir, a city northeast of Moscow, where they met and performed with the Vladimir Chamber Choir. They journeyed on to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where they performed with several choirs from the local university. Most of the people the chorus encountered seemed to have an intense hunger for first-hand information about the US and about the chorus. Leaving Tashkent, the chorus flew back to Moscow and on to Copenhagen and home, savoring the novel experiences and new friendships. The chorus produced “Peace Journey: The Next Step” to convey the 1988 Soviet experience. The slide show was later converted to video, which you can watch here.
Building toward the goal of citizen-to-citizen diplomacy, the Peace Chorus arranged for a three week tour by the Vladimir Chamber Choir. This choir has been a pioneer in restoring to Russian choral performance many ancient choral treasures. The concerts featured music of the 16th to 20th centuries as well as the American premier of a piece celebrating Andrei Bogolubsky, a prince and saint of Vladimir. The tour took place in September of 1989 and encompassed appearances in Seattle at St. Mark’s Cathedral and Gethsemane Lutheran Church; Washington High School Performing Arts Center in Bremerton and a joint concert with the Bremerton Symphony and Symphony Chorale; Coupeville, Washington; Olympia Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd; Portland’s Lewis and Clark College and First Methodist Church; St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco; St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, and Santa Rosa, California.
1985 Soviet Union
In response to the tensions of the Cold War, the chorus embarked on its first trip of citizen-to-citizen diplomacy. Forty-nine choristers took a message of goodwill into the vastness of the Soviet Union—Moscow, Leningrad, Kalinin, Yaroslavl—and to Soviet Asia—Samarkand, Tashkent, Alma Ata. We sang concerts in seven cities. Everywhere we received a warm reception—for the music, for the smiles, and for our eagerness to express the desire of diplomacy through song. Upon returning, chorus members created a slide show of the trip called Peace Song, which they presented to numerous community groups. The slide show was later made into a video, which you can watch here.