Reflecting on a Song Circle

By Sarina Partridge

The Climate Justice Art Hub was full of color, song, warmth, and some stray splashes of spilled paint on a cold Sunday in January – success with our first “Singing Art Build!”

This was an idea I hatched with artists Mary Breen and Jeannie Fahlstrom – I’m a songleader and organizer with Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, they are incredible artists and art facilitators with the Climate Justice Art Hub… what a team. Jeannie and Mary have helped create powerful art that lifts up the messages of this moment in our struggle for climate justice — you’ve no doubt seen work they and others have created for resisting the the Line 3 pipeline, the HERC facility, and more. I’m starting a series of monthly “Voices for Climate” song circles to get folks together, sing simple songs that connect us to the Earth, and learn about ways to plug in to climate justice work. So for the first V4C song circle, we decided to collaborate!

For this event, we invited folks to create protest art that we can bring to the upcoming Rise and Repair: Rally for Indigenous Rights and Climate Justice at the MN State Capitol — while learning and singing simple songs. When we show up to the Capitol on February 15th, we will have beautiful banners and signs, pockets full of songs we know in common, and a shared experience that has turned a studio full of strangers into a community. In between learning songs and painting banners, we did some learning about the Indigenous Rights and Climate Justice Legislative Agenda that MNIPL, Honor the Earth, and our many partners are pushing in 2023. As a group, we reflected on words and phrases that struck us as especially potent, and folks used those ideas in making signs. There was political education, and it came with lots of art, lots of joy, and lots of SONG.

So… why singing?

Our movements need us to show up as our fullest selves — with our joy, our grief, our creativity, our vulnerability — and singing together lets us practice that.

I strive to create songs that do good work – that will help a group feel connected, remind us of our collective power, that are simple enough to harmonize, and that will let us sing with hard feelings, too, that our slippery minds often try to slide away from. I don’t think of myself as a “healing practitioner” (barf) but I DO think of collective singing as a healing modality, a kind of care we can only provide for – and receive from – each other.

Through singing together, we can experience a space where we see each individual reflected in the whole, and the whole reflected in each individual. We get a chance to push back on narratives we may have internalized since childhood that “we don’t have a good voice,” and that singing (and art) should really be left for “the professionals” to do (many, many people tell me about these deeply-rooted toxic messages they learned as kids)… That’s some capitalist BS right there, and when we leave a community song circle feeling fully alive, deeply connected, and refueled with hope, we have taken some power away from capitalism and moved it into the hands and hearts of us, the people.

When we sing in harmony, we get a chance to practice listening and expressing at the same time, building a collective where we contribute in a personally free AND communally thoughtful way, creating something alive and beautiful. It’s not a space where people just scream and disrupt wildly with their voices, nor is it a space where we are too timid to try out a harmony. We strive to create something where we don’t all need to be doing the same thing; in fact, we need to NOT be doing the same thing, even while we build towards the same shared vision.

I love to gather groups to sing together in service of our beautiful work. Singing with a group that shows up to a choir rehearsal is a wonderful thing, and I love that too, but there’s some wild magic in getting a group of people singing together who don’t particularly think of themselves as “singers.” Singing becomes this arms-thrown-wide invitation to experience joy and community, totally unrelated to performance or perfection. That’s magic. That’s power. To me, that’s prayer: a prayer of remembering our deepest connections.

Sarina Partridge is a songleader and Organizer with Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light. Learn more about Sarina here, and listen to some of her songs for community singing groups on her bandcamp page.