Professor directs choir for homeless people

Professor Jonathan Palant directs the UTD University Choir during rehearsal on Feb. 13. Palant also directs a Dallas Street Choir for homeless people which he started three years ago. Last year, the street choir sang at Carnegie Hall. Photo by Michael Stout | Mercury Staff.

A UTD professor provides an opportunity for the underprivileged to hone their creative abilities through the choir he teaches every week.

Choir Director and professor of vocal music Jonathan Palant started the Dallas Street Choir three years ago. They meet weekly, and the choir provides a chance for the singers to have fun, eat snacks and sing with fellow members of the street community. Since the beginning of the choir, the group has performed at countless local and state-wide concerts, including Carnegie Hall.

“A piece of music called a Street Requiem was sent to me in 2014, and it was a piece to remember those who had died living homeless,” Palant said. “I wanted to do it with my community group, but it felt disingenuous to not include the street community.”

Palant expected to only work on the Street Requiem with his choir for 15 weeks, but they asked him what they would be doing beyond the concert. Singing with the Dallas Street Choir became a regular occurrence for interested members of the community. However, having to live a life without a stable home caused issues for the singers and Palant.

“The biggest obstacle would be consistency,” Palant said. “By nature, the homeless community is a very transient community, so we’re always welcoming new singers. When we agree to do a performance, I never know who’s going to show up for that performance.”

The members of the street choir are not required to attend concerts or weekly practices, as they haven’t actually signed up for the choir — they instead choose to come when they want. Palant has structured the choir in a way that there is no individual the choir is relies on to perform well. Instead, the music relies on the group as a whole.

“We sing in unison and don’t do much harmony at all, so if a singer is not there, there’s always someone to pick up the pieces,” Palant said. “So consistency has been a unique obstacle, but it’s not been something that has kept us down.”

Palant’s project provides opportunities for the less fortunate, such as having something to look forward to each week and occasionally being able to stay in warm and comfortable beds for a night during concerts. The crowning achievement of the choir so far has been performing at Carnegie Hall.

“Going to Carnegie Hall last June, the members of the choir were very excited,” Palant said. “We had several singers who had never been out of the state of Texas. To walk out onto that stage and feel the magnitude of that venue was powerful. And then to have success and be applauded for being there, I think that was really an important night in all our lives.”

Among the planned local performances, Palant said members of the Dallas Street Choir want to hold a concert on campus, collaborating with UTD’s dance department and choirs, for the students to be able to listen to the voices of people with really unique stories.

“We always strive to sing beautifully and to improve,” Palant said. “Is it always beautiful? No, but the stories behind our singing, the energy and passion, are really beautiful.”

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