By Carole Dastrous

Calgary Herald April 7, 2012

For some people affected by poverty and homelessness, it’s easier to sing than to talk about it.

Members of the Calgary Drop-In Centre’s resident DI Singers will do just that in July with a three-day off-Broadway performance at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

The group will perform Onalea Gilbertson’s oratorio Requiem for A Lost Girl, which they helped write and sing for the play’s Calgary premiere two years ago.

“It’s a chance to do more than just walk past poor and homeless people on the street. The play is intended to be food for the soul to help the homeless heal,” said Gilbertson, who founded the choir in 2009.

DI Singer volunteer and classically trained guitarist John Harris recalls the original recruitment drive.

“We thought we should not ask for ‘choir’ volunteers as we didn’t think it would be a draw among our residents. So we called the group the DI Singers. Choir robes were never required.”

Max Ciesielski is an original member of the DI Singers. He sings tenor for the group.

“I was in the music business for 15 years,” said Ciesielski, “but I know only a handful of people who ever performed off Broadway. It’s an honour to be invited.”

Isaac Hurwitz, executive director of the New York Musical Theatre Foundation, said a musical play about homelessness is a novel idea given the economic recession of the last few years.

The DI Singers’ participation in the New York event will be funded by Calgary 2012, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Canada Council for the Arts.

The group performs about 15 times a year and audience members have included Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean.

“It’s so easy to disengage from society,” said Ciesielski. “We hope to encourage others in our situation to believe that anything is possible and that opportunities are exponential.”

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