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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: April 27, 2016

The Phoenix Chorale sings for the benefit of others

Written by: Bob Keyes
Phoenix Chorale

Greg Dismore, left, of Portland and Lory Sellers of Peaks Island rehearse with the Phoenix Chorale, directed by Deirdre McClure, below. Photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The idea of using song for social change is probably as old as music itself. But there aren’t many music ensembles that exist for the sole purpose of social justice.

The Phoenix Chorale of Portland is one. The amateur group of singers, under the artistic direction of Deirdre McClure, formed in 2014 with a mission of singing in support of local social causes. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. The chorale gives all donations to charity partners.

The group sings at 7 p.m. Saturday at St. Luke’s Cathedral on State Street in support of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project of Portland. The organization helps immigrants improve their legal status. All songs on the program relate to the concept of home, said McClure, who also directs Odeon Orchestras at Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockport. “I have songs in lots of different languages about finding home and leaving or missing home,” she said. “One song includes the text, ‘I ache because I had to leave you.’ It’s not necessarily about immigration, but about the pain of leaving, which is an emotion many immigrants have to come to terms with.”

Last year, the group sang about homelessness to benefit the Preble Street Resource Center. Another concert raised money for the Good Shepherd food pantry. In the fall, it will sing about gun violence.

The group includes about 20 members. McClure would like to double that number to improve the choral blend. She has no doubt the chorus will achieve that goal because “it’s a very attractive mission. People seem eager to put their voices to work.”

The Phoenix Chorale grew out of the First Parish Church in Portland, where McClure formerly worked as music director. When she left the church, some of the singers followed.

Phoenix Chorale

Artistic director Deirdre Mclure directs the Phoenix Chorale during rehearsal in Portland. Photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Singing in the chorus doesn’t replace going to church, but it does provide an alternative with a community-service component. “This is part of the act-locally-think-globally movement,” McClure said. “People don’t go to church as much as they used to and therefore don’t sing in the church choir anymore. But they want to. They’re still looking for meaning in their lives.”

Many fledgling arts organizations struggle to survive because of finances. The Phoenix Chorale has settled some of those concerns with its receipt of a $42,000 gift from an out-of-state individual, who is friends with choir member Rory Sellers.

Sellers’ friend is socially oriented and made the gift because he believes in the mission of the chorus and wants it to succeed, Sellers said. “This is our seed money, our nest egg,” said Sellers, the group’s treasurer.

The chorale presents one major and two minor concerts annually. Saturday’s concert will include lutenist Timothy Burris and Syrian violinist Aban Zirikly.

McClure uses the word “potent” to describe the Phoenix Chorale. “Many people in Portland are community-oriented, and I thought that singing with a particular purpose might provide a way of celebrating community while making music,” she said.

The Phoenix Chorale

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St., Portland
ADMISSION: Free; donations accepted for the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project of Portland

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