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The sounds of justice


Charlene Sommers has been in choirs before, including college and touring choirs, as well as a stint with the Eastman Rochester Chorus.

But Sommers is currently putting together a different kind of choral group, a Justice Choir. She wants to build a group of people who can go to protests or demonstrations and sing songs or chant chants that reinforce the message at hand.

The choir will be "more about what the songs mean than about performing," Sommers says. The idea is that songs may stick with people and burrow into their subconscious in a way spoken words may not, she says.

Justice Choir is a grassroots movement that began in Minneapolis-St. Paul but now has chapters across the country, including two in Ithaca. Sommers says she was inspired to start a Justice Choir in Rochester after seeing posts from some of those groups.

Justice Choirs aren't rigid, rehearsal-intensive ensembles. They're more like a loose collective; the national organization's site likens them to civic organizations. Choir members just need to be familiar with the music, Sommers says. She also says participants don't have to be particularly good singers, and that some can even do things such as play drums.

To that end, Justice Choirs from across the country have put together a free songbook as well as a YouTube playlist of some performances; both can be found at The repertoire draws on spirituals and traditional folk songs, but also includes songs by choir members.

Anyone who's interested in the choir or wants more information can contact Sommers at [email protected]. The group's next get-together is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, October 4, at Metro Justice's space in The Hungerford, 1115 East Main Street; the organization has been helping the choir by providing space and promoting it.

The Justice Choir's first planned performance will be at Metro Justice's Alternative Fair; the event begins on November 30, but the choir is performing on its second day, December 1.

This post has been edited to correct the number of Justice Choirs in Ithaca and  the date of a Rochester Justice Choir performance.