The Trans-Global People’s Chorus

“Letters to Home,” by composer Darren Johnston, with choreography by Erika Shuch, was the inaugural piece for The Trans-Global People’s Chorus, a multi-generational choir that utilizes stomping, clapping and snapping along with vocal arrangements, and a stellar horn section.   The songs feature a libretto composed by Johnston, using selected phrases from a collection of letters written by a broad cross-section of immigrants living in the Bay Area.  Letter writers had the option of writing a letter to themselves at time he or she first arrived in the US, as if advice could be sent back in time to oneself, or to write a letter to a beloved back in his or her country of origin.

Participants from San Francisco’s Rooftop Elementary and Rooftop Middle Schools, Oakland School for the Arts, and some of the best Bay Area vocalists and performers came together for the premier on June 22, 2013, at the Yerba Buena Garden Festival to form the TGPC.

Listen to Darren’s interview on KPFA with Joanna Manqueros!


Featured Songs & Stories

1. Luis – From Songs of 7 Miles

Luis is a 53 year old day laborer I met on Cesar Chavez Street.  He moved here four years ago from Mexico City, crossing the river into Texas and spending two weeks being transferred across multiple state lines before arriving here.  He sends the money he makes to his family back home, with the hope and intention to move back there and be with them eventually.

Primero
nos pasomos el rio.
Es desierto, si.
y el rio.

A pié si.
Es duro, si.
y el rio.

Trabajar
y ganar dinero
mudanza, pintura,
demolición, de todo
de todo
y ganar dinero
dinero

Ah! San-Fran-ci-sco me encanta!
Ah! I love you San Francisco!

A qui ya he mantenido
a mi familia
allá en Mexico
familia.

2. Ledoh – From Songs of 7 Miles

Of the Karen people from Burma, Ledoh moved to the U.S. with his family at a very early age.  He is now an internationally recognized Bhutto performance artist.

Memory comes.
Memory comes from being present.
Those moments when you’re present.

And those precious moments,
a quick glimpse
into what happened.

Honesty comes
Honesty comes from being present.
Those moments when you’re present.

And that’s all you have
that’s all you have.

You take an interest in your own moment,
in your own body.

3. Sifu

Sifu was a Chinese-American  martial arts teacher who had, among other Hollywood notables, been John Wayne’s body-guard.  He had played roles in movies such as “Dirty Harry, and eventually settled in San Francisco and started a kung fu school.  He wrote his letter from his deathbed, and passed away on April 28, 2013.

Have love.
Without it
There won’t be anything
Have love.

With love,
Things will carry on.
They’ll carry on.
Have love.

4. Suk – from Songs of 7 Miles

Suk moved to the Bay Area from Seoul, South Korea in 1969.  She had felt restricted as a woman in the conservative climate in Seoul at the time, and instantly found greater freedom and happiness here, where she studied as a student and became an artist.  Her daughter is the choreographer for the Trans-Global People’s Chorus, Erika Shuch.

I guess
I was kind of a rebel side.
I didn’t like all the traditional ways.

I was kind of a rebel side.
It’s different now, but in those days.

Yeah, so….

I was kind of a rebel side.
I didn’t like all the traditional ways.

I was kind of a rebel side.
It’s different now, but in those days.

I didn’t like the culture they put on
for the girls.

And girls don’t do certain things
and they have certain manners.

I was happy,
freer here.

5. Denhi

Denhi comes from Mexico City, and I first met her at the Red Poppy Art House.  She used to always be there, having decked out the venue with beautiful flowers, and selling food for the intermission.  This is where I also first met her son, Emiliano.  Emiliano was the surviving child of twins.  Although Denhi was living in the U.S. at the time, she had been visiting friends in Mexico when a complication in her pregnancy found her giving birth to Emiliano three weeks early.  He spent his entire life in the U.S. however, and ended up going to high-school in Los Angeles, where he fell in love with a non-Mexican girl who was two years younger than he was.  A few weeks after turning 18, his girl-friend’s parents called the police, and had him charged with statutory rape.  As I understand it, those charges have since been dropped, (after a year of incarceration), but Emiliano is now under deportation proceedings.

To my mother
From a town called Dias Padre,
You left this world so early.
Strong and loving woman.

To my father
Born in San Luis Potasi.
The Wiracuta land
Your knowledge of art, a gift.

My beautiful daughter
Born on Halloween.
A snowy and cold day
Filled my life with joy and hope.

Strong and hard times
Strong and hard times.

Emiliano
He decided to stay.
With a smile that lit the world,
Lost the other one.

Strong and hard times
Strong and hard times.

My son
They punish love now.
My son
They punish love now.
My son
Didn’t commit a crime.

Strong and hard times
Strong and hard times.

Emiliano
He decided to stay.

6. Safa

Born in Iran, Safa is a local bass player who spent the last 7 years playing and touring with Rupa and the April Fishes.  He now leads his own band, The Glasses.  When Safa was 5, shortly after the revolution, his family had to escape on foot, crossing the mountains into Turkey and eventually arriving in the U.S. His letter for this project was composed to himself, as if he could send the letter back in time, to when he first arrived here.

Dear Safa, I’m you, in 32 years. You are about to leave home for America. I know all the things you’re excited about…..
Candy bars, cartoons, toys,
Freedom, to a little boy.
But there will be challenges as well. Everyone your age wants to fit in. Being a kid from another country, a foreign culture, makes it that much harder. You will want to hide that you’re Iranian, so you can fit in with the other kids.
But my advice to you is
Home is not a place.
Home is not a place.
You will learn this
As you travel across the world.
You try so hard to hide
So you can fit in.
Be and Iranian
You still be
An American too.
Home is not a place
Home is not a place.
7. Laura

Laura works for NPR’s “Philosophy Talk,” is an avid blogger and music presenter, and originally hails from Dublin Ireland.  She lost both parents within a month of each other, and so composed this letter while clearing out the house she’d grown up in, as a sort of “farewell to Dublin.”

So much has changed about you
So much has changed about me.
In a few days time, I’ll leave this house forever
In a few days time, I’ll leave this house forever
I’ll probably never see any of these neighbors again.
So much has changed about you
So much has changed about me.
Whenever I return to you, I feel like I’m a stranger.
Whenever I return to you, I feel like I’m a stranger.
I’ll probably never see any of these neighbors again.
So much has changed about you
So much has changed about me.
Soon all that has kept me coming back, will be gone forever.
Soon all that has kept me coming back, will be gone forever
I’ll probably never see any of these neighbors again.
8. Claudio

Claudio is originally from Argentina, where he had been a professional opera singer.  He still performs in the Bay Area, these days putting an emphasis on vocal coaching.
Libertad y respeto para todos!
Libertad y respeto para todos!
Tengo tanto para agradecerles Padres Mios!
Su amor de una vida entera, el amor de criarnos,
de hacernos ver que importante es amar.
Ya me siento Cosmopolita, Ciudadano del Mundo.
Libertad y respeto para todos!
Libertad y respeto para todos!
9. Rumen aka “Sali”
Rumen is a Roma (“gypsy”) musician, originally from Bulgaria.  He was a well known musician back home, until his parents sent him to the U.S. to make money, and send it back to his family.  Within a month of being here, both parents had passed away.  It was a few month later that he found out, as no one from home wanted to tell him the bad news.  Today he has a new family of his own, and lives in Berkeley.
For my people
the most terrible thing is to grieve
alone.
My parents
had sent me off to America
with high hopes
with high hopes of what I could do
for my family
from here.
If I
were to advise,
cherish every last moment at home
with the people
you love.
I never
could have imagined that that was
the last good-bye.
10. Meklit
Meklit is one of my dearest friends.  I also play in her band.  She’s taken me all over this world, including to her homeland in Ethiopia.  She even officiated my wife’s and my wedding, after going online to get ordained!  When she was 2, her father, mother, and sister were able to escape the Derg rule in Ethiopia by crossing the Iron Curtain while on a business trip to East Berlin.  She was left with her aunt in Addis Ababa, to be later reunited in the U.S.  Today she is an acclaimed singer and songwriter.
Dear full-hearted 2 year old girl
You will always feel at home
On plane rides.
Dear bold
Miniature adventuress
You will always have multiple homes.
Dear Meklit
Amharic slips away
You hear English all day long
And you are not afraid of it.
Little one
There are many things I could say to you
Ethiopia is in you
Many little tips for the coming years
The beauty is taking it with you
They might help.
Wherever you go.
Dear full-hearted 2 year old girl
Just so you know
It all turns out alright.
Dear bold
Miniature adventuress,
Welcome home.
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