The Meaning of Turning Nonprofit

by Bija Children's Choir

The Bija Children's Choir was a gift I gave myself on my 35th birthday, almost 7 years ago.  On October 25, 2007, I had pulled together 10 children who loved to sing, and had our class that day, putting into motion my dream to create a choir organization that would be vibrant and rich with artistry and culture, enhancing the lives of children and those in the community.  My studies in West Africa and Brazil inspired me, along with my lifelong passion for world music and my love for working with children.  

It was awkward at first, and took some time for the Bija Choir to create an identity and style of its own, which meant attracting students who would stay in the program for more than a semester, but it finally happened.  After the first season, we split into two and then three distinct groups:  Junior, Prep and Concert, and even an adult group, the Mandala Vocal Ensemble and a women's group, Kindred Voices.  We held three major performances a year, often donating some of our proceeds to other charities benefiting children such as The Living Room. 

At first, we were operating as a nonprofit project under the Sebastopol Community Center with Kim Caruso at the helm, however as she retired, other changes came about that led me to take a two-season break from the choir, losing that connection.  Then since I resumed the Bija Choir last season, I've been operating the choir independently.  But differently.  I've taken to heart the supposed "insult" that came my way from a businessman who told me to stop running the choir the way I ran my own personal life, which was to put creativity and meaningful experiences first and money later.  As an artist at heart, the money-business end of things never came naturally to me, so I've had to learn the importance of financial stability in sustaining a choral arts program.  And I have.

At the beginning of this summer, I decided to turn the Bija Children's Choir into a Public Nonprofit Organization.  Signing the papers felt kind of like cutting the umbilical cord, since the choir is now its very own entity-- its own "person", as the legal books like to describe it.  The Bija Choir is no longer my own little business to operate how I please.  There are by-laws and rules and procedures and accountability.  And paperwork!  But this is a chance for the Bija Children's Choir to achieve immortality, I thought, as long as there are people to carry forward the mission and practices that we now build.  How exciting!  How scary.  But mainly inspiring and motivating on my end to create a structure that can expand and grow, and continue to serve the community long after I am gone.  And I will no longer be doing creating this organization alone... perhaps you or someone you know will join me.



What sets great musicians apart

by Bija Children's Choir

I went to a San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers concert last weekend, featuring the great Alasdair Fraser who performed among 80 fiddlers and string players of mixed ages who filled up the stage of Lincoln Theatre.  Their collective sound was lively and impressive, though when (and only when) Alasdair played solo, I was transcended.  There was something about his playing-- and other great performing artists like him-- that set his music far above the usual "professional" performer's sound.  It got me thinking about why and how this happens, and I came to believe it could be a combination of things.  Of course there are endless hours of blood, sweat and tears of practicing on the instrument, out of sheer passion of just having to play... and there are elements of musical "talent" involved of having a super keen sense of pitch and embodying the rhythm, and as well the mature development of ear training and listening skills, but there is more.  I think this last essential element is what sets the great ones apart, and is captured in the saying that I've heard somewhere along my Dalcroze music and movement studies:  "Whatever you play, the first instrument is you."  It is the "you" part-- the inner self part-- that is developed so much in the truly great performers in addition to all of the other skills mentioned, that sets them apart from the rest.  Many possess a humble generosity of their spirit, and a loveliness and depth of their being that they express through their instruments...and the experience of being on the receiving end is, for me, what makes life so fulfilling. 

Consuming Less

by Bija Children's Choir

I normally write about music-related matters, but I simply have to share about something that has shocked me lately.  I myself am a minimalist as far as packaged products go, and am very glad that our Sonoma County stores and markets are slowly evolving away from giving out free bags with every purchase to order to save on paper and plastic consumption.  Lately, though, I've been blown away by store-workers' attitudes and practices.  Many times that I've requested "no bag" for my scone, or have brought my own container to get ground beef, the store workers still automatically take out paper bags/plastic wrappings, only to then crumple up those clean pieces when I say I don't want them.  Thus defeating the whole purpose!  It's very frustrating, and makes me glad to teach music to large groups of children, who are perhaps the only hope of changing this automatic consumption mentality in the future years.  Thankfully the act of making music can be entirely earth-friendly, and I'll be trying my best to model ways that an organization can be thriving and successful while consuming less.

Spring Celebrations

by Bija Children's Choir

I love the springtime in Sebastopol for many reasons-- the lush green grasses and apple blossoms, biking and walking about town on beautiful sunny days, cleaning up the yard and getting garden beds ready-- as well as preparing my music students to perform for their families and the community.  My SunRidge 5-8th grade choir students perform in their multi-use room on Thursday April 3rd, my Bija Children's Junior & Prep Choirs host "Parents Day" during class time on April 3rd and the Bija Concert Choir presents an Irish Story Concert to the community on Saturday April 5th at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts.  I myself will be singing some great Brazilian music along with Christian Foley-Beining for a Showcase Concert at the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa on June 7th, as well.  So much to celebrate, so much to be thankful for.