Singer-songwriter, activist and icon of the peace and justice movement Holly Near is coming to Philadelphia to perform with the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir next week.
Near has been campaigning for and singing about peace and social change for more than 40 years and is widely admired throughout artistic and activist circles.
Near said for the upcoming show she will perform solo and with the choir, which is an experience she enjoys.
“I will do a 45-minute set alone, and then they will do a set of their material, some of which is by me, and we’ll end the program with four or five of my songs and we’ll do them together,” she explained. “It’s wonderfully fun to sing with them. The experience of standing in front of a chorus is pretty juicy. You’re standing there looking out at the audience and behind you is this wave of massive energy coming towards you. I’ve performed for years with gay and lesbian and women’s choruses. The feeling is like being lifted up from behind and, from a vocal point of view, it’s quite extraordinary.”
With 40 years of activism to her credit, Near has seen society change, both for better and worse, immensely.
That evolution has left her with an extraordinary perspective on the many movements she has championed.
“Twenty years ago I was younger, so I had a shorter vision, which I think is required,” she said of how her view of activism has evolved. “When we’re younger, if we thought with a longer vision, we wouldn’t have the courage to do what was required in the moment. So in the 1970s I was completely focused on trying to integrate various social-change movements — in particular the anti-war movement, the women’s movement and the gay and lesbian movement. I wanted to bring all of those things together and realize that we are not separate; most of us are multiple things. I had a vision we could achieve that in its total. What happed was we achieved that in part. We did participate in ending the war in Vietnam. We did get greater gay rights. So there are lots of things people did that actually happen. Did I imagine that our whole system would be so insulted by someone who has no civility whatsoever? No, I did not imagine that. What I see now is a new generation hooking up cross-culturally in a very sophisticated way, better than we could have done in the 1970s. It’s cross-age. It’s cross-class. It’s cross-gender and identities of all sorts. [Trump] has insulted everybody so completely that it is a point of unification to become part of the resistance, and that is very exciting.”
Even though most will agree we’re living in some dark times socially, Near said people have told her that her work, such as her collaboration with Anna Crusis, is a beacon of light and hope.
“Part of what Anna Crusis and I are hoping is that we can not only perform and entertain people with everybody sitting there, but rather engage the audience in finding their own voices,” she said. “In the last few months, people seem so happy to sing together. Someone said to me at the last concert I did, ‘If I can come and do this once a week, I think I might make it through this crisis.’ It’s very healing and empowering to sing together. Just getting out of the house and away from Facebook and looking around and realizing you are not alone is a very healing thing. We as caring people have to come out to each other and say, ‘We are not alone or isolated.’”
Anna Crusis Women’s Choir performs a concert featuring Holly Near 7:30 p.m. April 21 at Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, 2110 Chestnut St. For more information, visit http://annacrusis.org or www.hollynear.com.