According to online dictionary Wikipedia, “riot grrl (also frequently spelled riot grrrl) is a form of hardcore punk rock music, known for its militant feminist stance. Riot grrrl lyrics often address gender-related issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality and female empowerment.” Famous events in riot grrl history include the pivotal moment when Courtney Love (lead singer of Hole) punched Kathleen Hanna (lead singer of Bikini Kill) in the face at Lollapalooza 1992.
Who knew that similar activities went down in Champaign-Urbana?
Indeed, lady power, gender issues, social activism and feminist music flourish in this township, although not quite in the riot grrl manner one would expect. Amasong: Champaign-Urbana’s Premier Lesbian/Feminist Chorus rivals the riot grrl genre in a way that Kathleen Hanna and Courtney Love might have never thought of: through the bond of love for beautiful music and the power of 60 female voices. Some members are students; some are stay-at home moms. Some are ministers, some are doctors and some are teachers. Some members of Amasong, named after the power of Amazonian women and the strength of song, are trained singers, and some cannot read music. Some are lesbians, some are straight.
Yet, despite these differing levels of ability and life experiences, there are strong bonds among the members. “I’ve probably driven over 50,000 miles just to sing in a choir,” admits chorus member Lud McKeeth. “I have felt my hair literally stand on end from the beauty and the connection of the music and the singers.”
Each woman is there for companionship, music, and sometimes as a way to heal from events in the past. Many acknowledge emotional problems and hardships, including a drug addiction, loss of friends and family, abusive relationships and having lost a sense of purpose in their lives before they joined Amasong. Yet, all these experiences have allowed the women to wade through times of adversity, most recently in downstate Illinois, where Amasong was told that several prominent places would not post Amasong’s concert posters because the words “lesbian” and “feminist” appeared on the announcements. The show went on anyway.
“Music is amazingly healing. I think that is what has drawn me to Amasong. The beauty of our combined voices and spirits is moving,” says Georgi Fisher, graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Our music talks about the trials that women have gone through. But, it isn’t just about trials, it is about celebrating our successes, our strength, and celebrating our love for one another.”
Their music includes anything from Greek chants to lullabies, work songs, love songs, war songs, children’s games, hymns and mourning songs. “Much of the music we sing is folk music from around the world. And since women often play the key role in passing on the music of their culture, women’s lives and concerns are well-represented. We sing songs by men, too. The female experience is the human experience,” explains Kathleen Fuller, a chorus member. “Not everything we sing is serious. It is also playful, dreamy, flirtatious, peaceful, exuberant or reverent.”
Women in the chorus don’t only listen to women’s folk music. In fact, members are fans of the local Champaign-Urbana scene, as well. The women in this group list the Poster Children, the Buzzcocks, Broadway songs, Lauryn Hill, Ani DiFranco, Arlo Guthrie, and Metallica as favorites and influences outside of rehearsal.
So how does Amasong rival the riot grrl genre in terms of female power? It does it subtly through not-so-punk music and political involvement-a combination that proves to be incredibly powerful. Many of the members are involved not only in Amasong, but also, unsurprisingly, in gay rights, women’s rights activities and voter registration, while other Amasong members work with support programs for sexual assault victims. Some members, like Georgi Fisher, have gone on to speak on television shows and organize people in the March for Women’s Lives.
Recently, Amasong and its founding director, Kristina Boerger, were featured in a documentary by Jay Rosenstein, The Amasong Chorus: Singing Out. Coverage of such an inspirational and talented group of women is well-deserved, and a true symbol of all their hard work.
Amasong will perform their winter concert, “To Sing is to Fly,” on Dec. 11 and 12, at 8 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively. The show will be at the McKinley Presbyterian Church, 809 S. Fifth St., Champaign (suggested donation $10-$20; free desserts and drinks follow the concert.) Don’t expect a brawl, but do expect to witness what Anne Jackson, member of Amasong, refers to as “what I hope our audiences can hear and feel at our concerts-magic.”
Any women interested in singing with Amasong should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an audition and a short interview. Please note that men are not allowed to join.