MA 30 The Innovators: Jonathan Palant
Founder/Conductor, Dallas Street Choir
Every Wednesday morning from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., Jonathan Palant conducts rehearsals for a chorus of about 75 individuals. The agenda is typical—a few stretches, vocal warm-ups, ensemble tuning, then working on the pieces and perfecting their execution. But this is no ordinary choir: 68 percent of its members sleep in shelters, the rest live on the street.
Palant, who holds degrees in music education and choral conducting, founded the Dallas Street Choir two years ago as an outlet for the homeless and the disadvantaged, so that they might feel a sense of structure, accomplishment, and community. No choral octavo scores here: Singers use lyric sheets and learn the music by rote. About half of them are in their 40s and 50s, most have high school diplomas. After an hour’s worth of rehearsal, they get a snack and a voucher for public transportation.
The choir made its debut on January 25, 2015 at the Dallas City Performance Hall with a sold-out concert of songs like “Tomorrow” from Annie, Bill Withers’s “Lean On Me,” Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” and a medley of “Love Train/Put A Little Love In Your Heart.” The grand finale was a 40-minute cantata about the homeless called Street Requiem in which the group was joined by mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade.
Small wonder the tagline for the Dallas Street Choir is “Homeless, Not Voiceless.”
The group, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, has also performed at the Stewpot homeless shelter in downtown Dallas, the Winspear Opera House, the George W. Bush Presidential Library, and other sites in the area. In June 2017, it will travel to Carnegie Hall and the Washington National Cathedral.
Palant, who teaches vocal music at Richland College, is busy helping other organizations like the Santa Fe Desert Chorale start choruses for the homeless. His website page, Start Your Own Choir!, is devoted to providing the instructions and resources to do just that, including a long list under the heading, “Things I’ve Learned Along the Way.”