Homeless But Not Voiceless, the Dallas Street Choir Provides Music and Community

The choir, which recently performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, gives Dallas' neediest residents a sense of belonging.

If you pass by the Stewpot downtown on a Wednesday morning, you are likely to see a group of homeless people in line outside the shelter. Although some would assume they are waiting for food or water, they are seeking a different kind of aid. They are waiting for their weekly choir rehearsal.

Since its founding in 2014, the Dallas Street Choir has been providing a musical outlet for those experiencing homelessness. The choir also offers scholarships, singing lessons, travel opportunities, and perhaps most importantly, it offers a community.

“It’s nice to get to meet people in this setting because no one is bugging,” said Stan, a choir member. “It’s just like kicking it with the guys.”

Before and during rehearsal, the Dallas Street Choir’s founder and conductor, Dr. Jonathan Palant, jokes with the singers, creating a fun and relaxed atmosphere. At the start, Palant thought the choir would be a one-time occurrence, but it has taken off since its first concert in January 2015.  Starting with only nine singers, the choir has grown and has served over 2,000 people, involving an average of 80 to 100 people per rehearsal.

“They are songs of courage and strength. It’s always feel-good music that (tries) to elevate spirits.”

“What we do is brighten the singer’s day through song, but also through humor, affection, and recognition,” Palant said.

He revealed that one of the keys to running a successful street choir is establishing trust and making it a fun experience. Part of that experience depends on the songs, which he chooses carefully. At a recent rehearsal the choir sang the hymn “Free at Last” and “I Got Love,” from the musical Purlie.  It takes between three to five weeks for the choir to practice a song enough to make it concert-ready.

“They are songs of courage and strength. It’s always feel-good music that (tries) to elevate spirits,” Palant said.

The choir strives to give its members a voice by shining a positive light. Thus the choir’s mantra: Homeless, not voiceless.

“There is a stigma surrounding homelessness and those who experience it, that they don’t give back to the community. And the reality is that our singers have talents, hearts, and minds,” Palant said.

The Dallas Street Choir has tried to break that stigma by performing at various churches, concert halls, and schools throughout the city. In June, the choir performed at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York City, its biggest stage yet.

“I’m not the best singer, but I got the chance to perform on one of the best stages in the world. Not many people can say that,” said Bjorn, a choir member who sang at Carnegie Hall.

Over time, Palant wants to grow the Dallas Street Choir with more scholarships and more voices, creating a stronger presence in North Texas. He has also set his sights on the Meyerson Symphony Center for a Street Choir performance.

“I think the Street Choir has had a lot of successes,” Palant said. “People feel good about being a member of the street choir because it offers members opportunities to enrich their lives and others.”