TACOMA, Wash. – With much of the country focused on an immigration policy that has divided communities, a refugee choir in Tacoma is trying to bring them together.
Imagine as you read this story, the sound of a choir in the distance learning “What a Wonderful World.” Music is truly a universal language. No matter our differences in religion, politics, or ethnicity, it brings people together.
"Like family. So good for me," said choir member Zamo Bebane, 20.
Bebane fled Iraq with his family 10 months ago. We sat down before rehearsal where he told me, "ISIS tell my dad, you work continues, we'll kill you."
So they left Iraq and headed for the Puget Sound. They had family in Kent but settled in Tacoma. Between studying and work he finds time to sing, though he'd never tried it before.
Bebane is a member of the refugee choir formed by director Erin Guinup, a music educator, voice coach, and director of the choir.
"A place where people feel welcome and loved and a friend to support them," she said.
It's a diverse group with new faces every week. In fact, Tuesday was Annie’s first rehearsal. She’s the newest alto from Indonesia. And just like that, Annie is part of a growing family.
It’s not as though Guinup was bored or had nothing to do; it was quite the contrary. She has another job, takes time off to sing around the world, and has a family at home. This is extra, she says.
"I do this because I felt like I need to,” Guinup said. “I feel that I have a voice to share and that if I can help others find their voice and use their voice to make the world a better place, then that's my time well used."
They don't all speak English, but they do speak the same language – music.
"It's wonderful. Amazing for me, for my heart, for myself," said Bebane with a smile.
The choir wound down one of the favorites with, “Peace on earth,” and it was the end of another successful practice.
"I'm a firm believer that music can change the world," said Guinup.
The choir is working toward a community concert in November.
If you’d like to join the choir, learn more about it on the group’s website.