As a child in Bellingham, Wash., Jennifer Langton was surrounded by music. “My family always sang, just as a part of life.”
That tendency continued into her adulthood and followed Langton across the continent. For over a decade, she’s been a member of Womansong, a local women’s community choir. This November, she notes, the nonprofit will celebrate its 35-year anniversary during its annual fall concert at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, 1 Edwin Place. The performance runs Friday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m. with an encore Saturday, Nov. 19, at 3 p.m.
The gathering, Langton continues, will also mark Allison Thorp‘s debut as the nonprofit’s new artistic director.
“She has an extensive technical background in conducting and vocal teaching,” says Langton, who served as a member of the search committee. “She has taught quite a few different and diverse choirs. And since we’re wanting to have more diverse music as we move forward, she brings that as well.”
Xpress sat down with Langton to discuss Womansong’s mission, the challenges women choirs face and the benefits of being a nonprofit.
This interview has been edited and lightly condensed.
Xpress: Your organization’s mission goes beyond singing in public. Tell me more about Womansong’s role within the broader community.
Langton: We’re centered on the themes of joy, social justice and community. We’re not a professional chorus. We have a lot of heart in how we sing and in what we sing. We’re also committed to exploring social justice and showing up at social justice events.
For instance, Rev. [William] Barber II [of the Poor People’s Campaign] and his team recently came to Asheville for a voting rally in October. We participated in the event.
We’re also regulars at certain events. For example, we typically show up at the annual Helpmate event, where the organization’s leaders read the names of people who have been victims of family and intimate partner violence.
Womansong is also really unique because we give a lot of support to each other. It’s almost like a nonreligious church in a way. We come together for community and a common cause and support each other through challenges. We have potlucks and really just celebrate together.
As a member of the search committee that selected Allison Thorp as the nonprofit’s new artistic director, can you tell me more about what the chorus was looking for in the leadership position?
We were looking for specific musical skills like piano and, obviously, a vocal background — someone who had actually had experience directing community choirs.
But we were also looking for someone who was passionate about our mission and values. Someone who had a passion for promoting women’s empowerment, sisterhood and social justice. And someone who had strong interpersonal skills, who could communicate clearly and responsively, who was positive, centered and inclusive.
Were there any surprises amid the search?
We ended up raising the salary more than we had planned, just because expenses are getting higher. Frankly, women’s choruses tend to underpay their artistic directors. We know that people do it out of passion and to be part of the community, but people also have to pay for expenses. So, we upped the salary a bit. That was a challenge, making sure that we had secured that in our budget.
What do you think are the benefits of Womansong being a nonprofit?
Some choirs aren’t nonprofits, and they kind of ebb and flow. For us, it enables us to be more stable and to get people involved who aren’t necessarily active members. People and the community really come together as a small village, and that provides a lot of richness. The nonprofit status provides ongoing support and continuity so that people can be engaged and help support us in a lot of different ways.