When lesbian music student Kristina Boerger moved to a small Illinois college town, she didn't find a ready-made community. So she decided to create one with what she loved best: choral singing. Within a few years, what had initially been a ragtag group of volunteer vocalists had become an award-winning recording ensemble. Showing the choir's evolution into a nationally recognized performance group, The Amasong Chorus: Singing Out documents how the spirit and dedication of one person can help transform a community.
Ever since she was a child, Boerger had loved and excelled in music. She came out as a lesbian in college, and in the summer of 1985, she had an experience that changed her life: While working at a college in the Midwest, she was fired when she mentioned being a lesbian. As Boerger recalls, "I was removed within an hour. At first I was so humiliated and so depressed and so angry. And, as the anger bubbled to the fore, I realized that I just had to make sure that I never went through that again, and that I did anything that I could to prevent anyone else from having to go through it."
Boerger devoted the next six years to political activism. But by 1991, she was tired, frustrated, and burnt out. While studying for her master’s degree in music at the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign, in a university town with facets of both urban and rural cultures, she decided to form what she advertised as a lesbian/feminist chorus called Amasong. The group’s name was a play on the words “amazon” and “song.” “The word amazon conjures up images of strong women who make their own decisions,” Boerger says. “It was a way of coding our group in a certain way.”
Responding to flyers that Boerger posted around town, a roomful of brave women showed up — mainly lesbians, but also feminist housewives and students. As she explains, the decision to label Amasong as “lesbian/feminist” was an important one: “There's lesbian-feminism with a hyphen, which refers to woman who are lesbian and feminist. But if you put a diagonal slash between, then it means either or. And that's very important. Whenever I tell people on the phone who we are, I make sure they get the punctuation correct. It doesn't mean you have to be both to get in the choir. It means you've got to be one or the other.”
As The Amasong Chorus reveals, the choir’s first members were diverse in age, interest, and experience. “My original standard for singers?” Boerger recalls. “I didn't have one. They had to be warm bodies — who were women. That was it.” But under Boerger’s dedication and leadership, the chorus soon grew in number and skill. Mary Lee Sargent, professor of women’s studies at Parkland College, explains that Boerger is “political to the core, but she's also an artist to her core. So she's got both identities. And the choir is an expression of both of these identities.”
Because of Amasong, women from different backgrounds found a place where they fit in, where their talents were taken to heights they'd never before imagined possible. And although the traditionally conservative community was hesitant at first, the startling beauty of the group’s music slowly and steadily won its acceptance, developing from a motley band into a large and polished choir, and changing the lives of individuals through the power of music.
- Jay RosensteinProducer