Justice and equality: sound and song

The Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir will be performing Jazz Meets Gospel on June 2 at the Christ Church Cathedral. The choir will explore connections between the two inextricably linked genres in their many forms, with songs made popular by Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong.

For Good Noise Gospel Choir singer Cleta Brown, music and justice have always been intertwined aspects of life.| Photo by Martin Dee.

For former lawyer, social justice advocate, active community member, and Good Noise Gospel Choir singer Cleta Brown, music and justice have always been central and intertwined aspects of life.

Amidst her family’s appreciation for music, including her parents’ extensive record collection, and regular family outings to concerts in a variety of styles and genres, Brown remembers her parents’ insistence on an active and engaged musical childhood.

“All the children in my family had to play a musical instrument until high school graduation. Nonetheless, I never seriously considered a career in a musical field,” she says.

It was justice, rather than piano, that Brown would pursue.

“I was born into a family that pushed and valued community involvement in any way that helped provide progress and betterment for the oppressed, the marginalized,” says Brown. “[Just] as important to us [as music] was service in the community, and so I became a volunteer from age thirteen and have never stopped. Law seemed a natural place to use meaningful, impactful skills towards contributing to my community and to the struggle for justice and equality.”

From private practice to Crown Prosecutor, Brown’s legal career has and continues to span a breadth of positions and affiliations, most often centred around equality and justice. As well as being involved with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the YWCA (Metro Vancouver), and West Coast LEAF and LEAF National (legal organizations centred around women’s equality through law), Brown is currently working towards becoming a qualified legal mediator and arbitrator.

Hope and harmony

Now that she’s retired as a lawyer, Brown has been able to pursue her original musical dream: to become a singer in a gospel choir – something which she’s achieved with her first year in the Good Noise Choir.

“I have grown up listening to gospel music and had a dream of one day being able to sing in a gospel choir. As with many dreams, I never seriously expected it to come true, especially as I was discouraged in elementary school from singing out loud. But, with advancing age, I decided, ‘What the heck, I’m going to take a singing lesson’,” says Brown.

From the positive experience that followed, she learned of the Good Vancouver Gospel Noise Choir through a choral workshop, and successfully auditioned with the Good Noise Choir soon after. For Brown, it was nothing short of a dream come true.

“There are very few other ways to feel such purity of happiness and of being exactly where one is meant to be and with a congregation of others similarly moved,” says Brown. “I’m sure there are scientific and evolutionary explanations for this powerful feeling, but I just know it as moments of human perfection. What we are capable of when we try hard and let go at the same time.”

The sensational experience of singing with a congregation comes not just with appreciation and joy for these songs in and of themselves, it is also underlined by music’s connection with its spirituality, history, and justice.

Brown herself is a first generation Canadian born to Caribbean/African American parents, both of whom were raised in devout Christian households, and as such, Brown’s parents’ relationship and her own relationship to music, especially gospel music, goes deeper than the melody.

“Coming from oppressed, and discriminated against communities (segregation and colonialism) [and the civil rights movement] shaped their values and priorities,” says Brown. “Gospel music, in particular, speaks to me of hope, service, sacrifice, a better future, and the love that is going to get us through. It offers heart-swelling beauty in sound and gravitas and hopefulness in lyric. A uniquely awesome and compelling combination.”

For Brown, it may be the most passionate manifestation of her continued commitment to justice and equality, embodied through sound and song: harmony and hope, together as one.

For more information about the concert and Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir, visit www.goodnoisevgc.com