Choir homeless, but not voiceless, at Carnegie Hall

NEW YORK — They’re homeless, but a group of men and women from Texas has made it to Carnegie Hall.

The storied New York City concert hall was the venue last week for a performance by the Dallas Street Choir, all singers recruited from urban streets and homeless shelters who’ve been performing since 2015.

About 20 members of the choir were joined by 17 residents of a Manhattan homeless shelter.

The singers included Michael Brown, who lives under a bridge in Dallas when it rains and on a hilltop in sunny weather.

“We may be homeless, but we’re not voiceless,” he said at a rehearsal Tuesday, “so let’s use our effort to remind people that we still have hope and it will never die.”

Dallas Street Choir conductor Jonathan Palant has also brought in some world-class luminaries for the performance: mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade; soprano Harolyn Blackwell; composer Jake Heggie, who created a musical version of the book and movie “Dead Man Walking”; and Stephen Schwartz, who composed the Broadway hits “Godspell,” “Pippin” and “Wicked.”

Palant said he got the idea for the choir a few years ago while volunteering with a homeless services organization. It started out as a Christmas event — a big meal at a homeless shelter with entertainment by a group of singers who rehearsed with Palant for just a few hours. But that inspired him to start a weekly musical session open to anyone who wanted to sing.

Members of the choir come and go frequently. They don’t always produce perfect sounds, and there are moments of slight cacophony, “but our members sing with heart like no other choir,” said Palant.

Never in its 126-year history has a musical ensemble of homeless performers appeared at Carnegie, said the hall’s archivist, Gino Francesconi.

Last week they drew one of the most diverse audiences Carnegie Hall has ever seen: just about every race, religion and age, including a 3-month-old baby, and from wealthy New Yorkers to the nearly penniless homeless, rocking to the rhythms.

Brown got his first shower and haircut in weeks for the concert. Normally, he survives going to soup kitchens, and aims to get a job as a waiter.

He’s an energetic, bright-eyed choir member, while some others are physically frail; one woman relies on a walker, another uses a cane.

The evening at Carnegie Hall was titled “Imagine a World — Music for Humanity.”

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