Melanie DeMore is a musician, composer, and educator. She came to Trinity in 2011 for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and in 2015 to lead attendees in song and prayer at the Trinity Institute Conference. Recently she performed in Trinity’s Concert at One series.
Can you tell me a little about what you do?
I call myself a vocal activist. I get contracted to work with a lot of choirs. I’m a little bit of an unorthodox conductor and I have an unusual voice so I get to sing with a lot of differing people.
My whole purpose, whenever I do a concert or anything, is to really get people involved. I like to think of the audience as the fifth section—you’ve got the soprano, alto, tenor, bass, and the audience. They need to be a part of creating the music. That to me is really important. We don’t have enough occasions where we can come together as a community and raise our voices together with no judgment and no fear.
For me, no matter what it is, whether I’m working with a professional choir or just a bunch of folks just getting together for street rallies, the whole idea is about tightening that weave of community and connection. You don’t have to know anything. You just have to be willing to be present.
You often lead group singing or ask the audience at your concerts to sing along. Is it difficult to get people to sing?
Part of it is just giving people permission. We think we have to know everything. If we don’t we think we have to try to anticipate and guess what’s coming. So we don’t have that many opportunities to just really be in the moment.
There was a moment [at the Trinity Institute conference], I was holding hands I believe I was sort of dancing with the Archbishop of Canterbury and I thought, “Well, this is different.” But he had just a beautiful smile on his face. There is a little spark of joy that happens. Once that happens anything could happen.
Song is one of the purest ways of prayer. It’s a way to bring people from all different places together. I was talking about the spirituals [at the concert] today—it’s not religious music, it’s about the desire to be seen for who you really are, that deep longing to be free. Everybody has that. I’ll ask people questions: have you ever felt disconnected or disjointed, disrespected? Everybody’s felt that
You’re a human being. You can lay claim to those songs because you lay claim to those feelings and what that does is bring us all into the same room. What I’m able to do is to help people focus their energy and to be ready to receive whatever they need to receive. It ain’t easy being greasy on this planet we call earth, so we have to find ways to keep our heart open and our minds open if we’re going to have solutions.