The longstanding lesbian chorus Artemis Singers will use their annual summer concert to implore listeners to consciously choose hope in the face of hardship.
The performance, "Better Times Will Come," takes place at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Ave., June 10 at 7 p.m. It's the group's first indoor concert since the pandemic started in March 2020.
"Hope is the concert's primary message, in a way that says, 'We know there's a lot to be discouraged about,'" said the show's co-artistic director Jennifer Byrne. "It's saying, 'Come on, dust yourself off. Keep going. Let's do it.' We have put our energy and hope into positive, collective action."
Artemis Singers was founded in 1980, and the self-directing chorus currently includes 30 members. This year, a wave of new members joined the group, which has felt like a "breath of fresh air," said longtime member Hilary Marsh.
This feeling is reflected in this year's show, which was co-directed by Marsh, who's been with the chorus ten years; Byrne, who joined about four years ago; and Da-Mekah Victorian, who started singing with the group just last year.
"We listened to old concerts together, to create an appreciation, not only for our legacy, but for where we're going," Byrne said. "We're really trying to embrace our younger members while also celebrating the richness of our history. It's like Artemis is back, but on the move, evolving and growing and passing torches in a way."
Members of the chorus played a part in deciding which songs would be included. Any member of the group could suggest songs and everyone voted on their favorites, Marsh said.
This year, the group made a conscious effort to choose more songs that were written or arranged by BIPOC creators. For the first time, about 40% of the songs in this summer's show were created by BIPOC artists, including some self-composed songs that will be debuted for the first time, Victorian said.
"Since the choir has been around for so long, it's truly unbelievable to see how many songs we have in the library, but a lot of them tend to be from the same sources," Victorian said. "It can also be really hard to identify whether or not a composer is a person of color, but that was something we really encouraged people to think about when they were suggesting songs for the group."
Marsh, Byrne and Victorian worked together to develop the show's theme, arrange the songs and manage production details. However, each group member has a unique role to play within the chorus, whether they're soloists, instrumentalists, composers or production assistants.
"We really do it allwe don't outsource," Byrne said. "Everyone pitches in and we get it done. I absolutely love that collective power and collective energy, musical and otherwise."
The show will feature a variety of songs that showcase the chorus' "range of capabilities," Victorian said.
"The music is positive and uplifting and fun," Marsh said. "It's not a heavy, serious concert. We have done those and they're great and moving and important, but positivity is important too. I like to say that we're doing this theme because we all need it."
The group will debut a few songs they wrote or arranged themselves, including one called "I Wish You Enough" which was arranged by chorus member Allison Downing.
"It's about the giving that's in communities of women, and shows how we try to support each other," Byrne said. "I get chills every time we sing it."
Another song, "The Weaving," was written by members Loraine Edwalds and Laurie Lee Moses, and expresses the joy that individuals find through participating in the chorus.
"The Weaving celebrates bringing our voices together in Artemis, in many different ways," said Moses. "Each musical part echoes and connects to the others, evoking Edwalds' poetic meditationshow did we get here? It is about our stories, created together, piece by piece, over time."
After the show, the chorus will host a dance, bringing back a tradition that was lost to the pandemic over the past few years, Marsh said.
"Back in the day, lesbian communities always had dances where we'd get to hang out together in a place that wasn't necessarily a bar," Marsh said. "That's where we got to meet people, make friends, make all kinds of connections. This is one of the few instances where that remains, so any chance we get to do that, we make it happen."
Collectively creating these kinds of intergenerational spaces, where queer women can build community with each other, has been a powerful experience for Marsh, Byrne, Victorian and the other chorus members, they said.
"It feels like organic connections just happen," Victorian said. "I lived in Louisiana my whole life, until four years ago. Seeing a room that's completely full of adult lesbians was never something I thought I would get to see, or be a part of. It has given me so much hope."
Victorian said she hopes that people who see the show get the sense that "there's room for us to be optimistic while acknowledging that there are really hard things happening at the same time and that we can move forward together."
"The songs are powerful, touching, hopeful, and the experience of singing in this chorus has just been absolutely wonderful," Byrne said. "It's been healing and energizing for me to be a part of, so I think that will come across in the concert and be wonderful for people."
For more information about Artemis Singers and their June 10 show, visit artemissingers.org/ .