Art People: Anne Louise White | musician, teacher

Last modified: Thursday, July 24, 2014
Music is so much more than entertainment, says Anne Louise White, a singer, pianist, choral director and music teacher. It’s a way to build community, to learn about history, to reach across cultural barriers, and to feed our bodies and souls.

White, 56, who lives in Leverett, teaches at the Fort River Elementary School in Amherst, where she directs the fifth-and sixth-grade chorus. She’s also the director of the Leverett Community Chorus, which will perform Sunday at Leverett Elementary School in what will be White’s last concert with the group; she needs more time, she says, to devote to a new cross-disciplinary curriculum plan at the school, which she championed.

“I figured I should put my money where my mouth was,” she quipped in a recent interview at the school.

After a lifetime of singing, White says, she’s learned from experience that music has both physical and spiritual restorative powers.

“When you sing, you’re hearing and feeling the vibrations of different chords; it’s almost like getting a massage, it physically feels good,” White said. And singing in a group like the Leverett chorus, she adds, massages the psyche as well as the vocal chords. “Everybody works together and the whole group lifts one another up.”

White formed the Leverett chorus 12 years ago, after she discovered there was no choral director in the school or the town. That didn’t sit well with White, who put together her first choral group when she was in the fourth grade — because her school didn’t have one.

“I believe that singing is everybody’s birthright,” she said. “I wanted to create an opportunity for people to ... experience the joy of harmonizing together.”

Would-be members don’t have to audition; everybody’s welcome. Even people with a tin ear.

“This is not about who’s more talented, this is about doing this together,” she said.

Just as music can help build local communities, White says, it also can promote a broader historical perspective and encourage cross-cultural sharing and understanding. White chooses songs for her choruses that come from different countries, or from times of social upheaval or injustice, like those sung during the civil rights movement or by those who lived under apartheid in South Africa.

“I’m looking at how music was used to foment change — songs that record history. That adds emotional content,” she said. “When you climb inside the environment of a song you’re connecting with people on a lot of levels. It can be a very powerful experience.”

In the summers, White teaches at folk-art camps, where she’s met musicians from across the globe. She’s traveled to several countries — Korea, Japan, Kenya, Ukraine among them — where she’s lived in towns and villages, sharing music with local residents. Those experiences, she says, fuel her passion for learning choral traditions from different parts of the world.

“Music is one of the very best ways you can cross a boundary and connect with somebody,” she said. “If I sing with somebody, we connect in a deep way. When you’re harmonizing together, looking at each other, you become friends almost instantly.”

— Kathleen Mellen

The Leverett Community Chorus will perform May 18 at 3 p.m. at Leverett Elementary School, 85 Montague Road. Free admission. A reception will follow.