One day after a truck plunged off the Coronado Bridge into a crowd at Chicano Park, the SWC Concert Choir performed a somber but uplifting outdoor concert. “One Love” was to be a statement about drug violence and dependency, but also served as a tribute to the four people killed by the falling vehicle, which landed nearly on the spot the choir was to perform.
Assistant Director B.J. Robinson said the Concert Choir performance took a more serious tone than its usual ebullient concerts.
“There’s definitely a more personal and emotional reach point with this,” he said. “In a lot of ways I see it as a musical protest, a call to action. Not necessarily to stand up against any specific person or event happening, but to show our support in these times for what’s happening politically and socially with shootings, wrongful arrests, drug-related crimes and deaths. It’s our way in making a difference and making a statement about what’s happening in the world.”
Despite struggling with audio problems, the Concert Choir successfully relocated across the street from Chicano Park’s main stage. A moment of silence in honor of the four victims preceded the concert.
“We were originally supposed to be on the main stage of Chicano Park,” said Robinson, “but because of the terrible accident, we chose to try and move spots so we wouldn’t disrupt anything. We were told we could come to this side of the bridge. We got over here and there was no power. We were scrambling. A park ranger showed up, he was able to turn on the main switches and we were able to bring everything together.”
Gretchen Bergman, executive director of Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing, said America is still fighting a war on drugs.
“We are here on this spot for a reason,” she said. “We’re embracing all cultures and giving dignity and respect to cultures, so it’s fitting we are in such a historical spot. We understand the intersection of the drug war, the war on poverty, the war on people, the war on immigrants and we come together to create unity. By gathering our voices together in song, we strive to shine a light of hope and humanity. Through the universal magic of music, we will demonstrate and amplify the beauty and strength of our diversity as a nation.”
Concert Choir Director Dr. Teresa Russell said she and many of her singers had a personal connection to the effects of drug abuse and addiction.
“My mother suffered from alcoholism for a long time,” she said. “After her recovery, she ran a halfway house for drug addicts and chemically dependent people for 20 years. She helped a lot of people get into residential help. Once they go through therapy there were residential places where they could live and have a support group to get back into the workforce.”
Robinson said he had similar experiences.
“I’ve had several family members who struggled with drug addiction in the past,” he said. “I had an uncle, who I lost as a child, who died from drug overdose. I’ve known a lot of people that have come and gone on different levels of it, some personal friends even. They were all fine in college and then a few just went through a dark period. It’s definitely an issue that is near and dear to our hearts.”
Russell said recovering from addiction is difficult and music helps.
“Our group has been a huge support system,” she said. “There’s that revolving door. Something happens in their life and they go back to taking drugs or drinking, or whatever their demon might be. I think when you have this type of support group, it’s almost like a family. Music can be a great therapy.”
“I think through all of the choirs here we’ve had students suffering with drug issues and addiction,” he said. “We’ve seen many of them come up and down the scale. Most of them have recovered to a point of getting themselves grounded in and focused on their lives and education and health again.”
Shrouded in the Sunday gloom, the choir performed four songs with their combined voices reverberating through the park. As Robinson glided through his solo in the finale “One Small Voice,” a ray of sunlight broke through the overcast clouds, illuminating the gleaming smiles of the crowd and choir.