The Resistance Revival Chorus Performers
Brian Smiga: Hi, this is Brian Smiga. I'm the Founder of TEDxAsburyPark, and this is an Expert Open Podcast covering one of our great acts and speakers at TEDxAsburyPark 2019, happening on Saturday, May 18th at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park.
Brian Smiga: Please welcome Ginny Suss and Brooke Williams from the Resistance Revival Chorus. Welcome.
Brooke Williams: Thank you.
Ginny Suss: Thank you.
Brian Smiga: It's really great getting to know you guys. I had the pleasure of hearing the Resistance Revival Chorus at the TED headquarters in SoHo, New York, and I was blown away. Then, of course, the nation's heard so much from you since then.
Brian Smiga: Do you guys want to do a quick intro of yourselves? Because you're two of 70 women in the Resistance Revival Chorus, and I love your backstories. So, tell us about what you do when you're not singing.
Brooke Williams: Ginny, you want to go first?
Ginny Suss: Hi, I'm Ginny Suss. I'm a producer, a content creator, I do a lot of curations, specifically live event curations on music. I am an artist manager for the Resistance Revival Chorus, and I'm also a photographer.
Brooke Williams: My name is Brooke Williams. I am also a photographer, and an editor, a blogger, and a sort of on and off musician. Although now with the Chorus, it's much more on, I guess, than off, which is amazing. And an activist, which I think is a really important part of both of our lives, that it's become such a constant, that you almost forget to add it, like breathing, at this point.
Brian Smiga: Yeah. Wow, that's great. So activism, art, music, all coming together, and not just for the two of you, but probably for so many members of the Chorus. I understand there's 70 now, and you guys are having and enjoying a well-deserved success. But, let's go back to the beginning. How did this idea of the Resistance Revival Chorus come about? I would love to share the origin story.
Ginny Suss: Sure. So, the Resistance Revival Chorus was born with a group of women who worked together on the Women's March. I was one of the co-founders of the Women's March, and I produced the march, the march in Washington. I connected with some amazing women, and in fact, that's where Brooke and I really met. We had kind of passed each other before then in New York, as you do, but we really got to know each other working together on the Women's March.
Ginny Suss: It was a small group of us that got together, most of my creative collaborators who helped with the sort of production and the stage ... the artistic direction. It was about six months after the march, and we had all been just involved in so much in that short compressed period of time. We had been at protests and in the streets, been doing, you know, social media campaigns, and calling our senators, and advocating.
Ginny Suss: There had just been so much work going on, and so much sort of bad news in the press every day, that by the summer of 2017, we were all feeling a little deflated. We realized that we had been sort of neglecting the self-care portion of activism that's so necessary, and we said, "We want to do something ..." We really started it ... It was kind of a selfish endeavor, we just wanted something that made us feel good internally. So we decided to put a call out to a bunch of women to say, "Do you want to come sing protest songs? We're going to have a sing-a-long, not sure what this will become."
Brian Smiga: So it started off as a restorative moment to get together and sing-a-long. Okay, keep going.
Ginny Suss: Brooke was one of the ... I believe one of the original people that we reached out to. It was a lot of musicians who I reached out to through my networks. I've been working in music for, you know, almost 17 years, and I knew a lot of working New York City musicians. So I put a call out to all the women I knew who were singers, and I didn't expect much, because this wasn't a paid gig. Women are so marginalized and underrepresented in the music industry, that I think it's really hard for working musicians, particularly women, to engage in a lot of unpaid gigs, because making a living's such a difficult endeavor.
Ginny Suss: So, I really had low expectations. I thought a couple women would trickle into our friend, Sarah Sophie's, living room. It ended up being 30+ women. We were sort of spilling out of her living room, we couldn't fit. So many of these musicians came to me and said, "Thank you for this, because I've been wanting to get engaged, and I've been wanting to sort of become an activist, and become more politicized, and become more aware, and figure out how I could sort of be more deeply engaged with my community. I just didn't know how, I didn't know what I could do as a singer to enhance the sort of progressive political movement of the moment."
Ginny Suss: Now they have a sort of a way to do that. So it ended up being this amazing meeting of the minds of musicians exploring their activism, and activists exploring their musicality.
Brian Smiga: Wow.
Brooke Williams: That's what, you know, to jump in, that's what made it so special, was that it was this really kind of authentic mix of people who shared the common kind of interest of music, and of sort of forming a community through voice, as well as being activist-minded. Although, everyone kind of came to the table with a slightly different combination of those two pieces, and it has become this incredible support group, and really a family, in terms ... you know, we all ... We have a signal chain that literally every day there's another ... you know, someone's having a conference, and then different people come, or somebody's starting a protest, and different people are ... someone else is going to make the posters.
Brooke Williams: You know, we also ... there are a number of us who are mothers in the group, and, you know, we've got our kids coming in and out of the rehearsals and the performances. It's really been, across the board, consistently the most positive, supportive group of people I have ever been involved with. Bar none. There are no fights, there are no kind of ... everyone's really ... I can't even believe what an incredibly supportive group, and what a supportive community we are, and it projects.
Brooke Williams: What's really amazing is that the audiences, you know, people who we sing to, you can see on their faces this kind of real connection, and it's all about sort of having this sense of community, which is what we all need, if we want to be kind of pushing our nation forward in a positive direction.
Brian Smiga: It's so interesting that this common ground brings the group together across, you know, multiple connections, all activists, but now brought together by song. There's so many aspects to that, raising our voices, working in harmony, bonding. It's really interesting. When did you know that this was a big idea? When did the world also, besides your own internal pleasure and unity, start to signal that this really works?
Ginny Suss: I think it happened pretty early on. I think, we internally, that first day, that first meeting, that first sing-a-long, we realized there were a lot of women interested in coming together and connecting through song, and thinking about what it means to have a soundtrack to this particular historical moment in time, and thinking about writing new music for it, and healing each other through songs.
Ginny Suss: So, I think we knew that that first meeting that there was something special going on there. Sort of quickly thereafter, one of our co-founders, Paula Mendoza, who's a director and an artist herself, thought of the idea of creating a video that she'd direct, that was a pop-up action, where we would bring a song that we learned at the first rehearsal, and we would sing it in Times Square. That song is called "Rich Man's House", and it was written for the labor movement.
Ginny Suss: We made a little video, we made a pop-up video, and it got ... it ended up getting 1.5 million views. So I think that was the first time that the world sort of latched onto this idea and said, "Oh, we're excited for this as well. We're excited for this content, we want to see more of this."
Brian Smiga: Great. What happened next? This is summer of 2017, here we are almost two years later. What happened next?
Ginny Suss: Brooke, you want to talk a little bit about from your perspective what happened next?
Brooke Williams: It started out as a sort of a slowish trickle of performances. We started a monthly, although it's, you know, sometimes it's every other month, but, an evening where we host almost like a cabaret, where we will, as a chorus, kind of often open and close the evenings. Then we have all sorts of different solo performances, some from members of the chorus, some from, you know, guests that people who we admire. The idea of being a sort of a celebration of our victories.
Brooke Williams: We try to have it benefit a particular organization. So we talk about whatever that organization is, we talk about various legislative victories, different ... just sort of celebrating the work that people have been doing, that you don't necessarily hear about, to kind of help to counter that deflated feeling that Ginny was describing, that we were all feeling kind of half a year into the Trump administration.
Brooke Williams: Then all of a sudden we are singing at a massive meditation prayer meeting in Madison Square Garden. Then all of a sudden, Ginny comes with this handwritten note from Philip Glass, who's invited us to participate in the benefit that he does at Carnegie Hall for Tibet House, and we worked with Carly Simon. Seems like these things just come out of the air, although, if you talk to Ginny, Ginny definitely ... Ginny is the air out of which many of these things come.
Brian Smiga: Right.
Brooke Williams: She has such a wide reach, and is so well-respected in the community. But, so it's just ... it continued to roll. What's really incredible, is that because we're a group of 70, we're never all in one place at one time, but a big group of us will be able to go to pretty much all of these performances, or gatherings, or marches, that we, you know, that we decide that we want to take part in.
Brooke Williams: So that's what's made it really great, is that the chorus can be a powerful and large presence, but each individual member doesn't feel overwhelmed by having to go to, you know, everything that's going on. Even though, I think every time I hear something that I can't make, I'm like, "Oh," you know? Because we're ... I mean, we were in Boston with the ACLU this week. But it's just been this incredible bunch ... incredible sort of series of opportunities to perform, and to connect with people, and to share.
Brian Smiga: I love that the group can reassemble and transform, and go different places, because you are 70. How many of you, and what was the experience like with Kesha at the Grammys? That must have been pretty fantastic.
Ginny Suss: Yeah, so, well, so, in general, we put every gig out to the whole chorus, and then whoever's able to make it, joins. So it's very essentially meant to work for touring musicians, or mothers, or working, you know, working women, who can't come to every gig. It's sort of this big, fluid, in and out, flowing group, where it's sort of always a different configuration.
Ginny Suss: At the Grammys, that was sort of the one only time we weren't able to have the entire chorus there, but we had a great core group of members representing. You know, working with Kesha was amazing. I think that I didn't quite give Kesha enough credit until this song, when she did the song "Praying", and I sort of researched the history, and how it was really a woman standing up, standing up against sexual violence, against sexual abuse, and letting her voice be heard. But it was also sort of this message of love, and of hope, in a way.
Ginny Suss: I think it was really powerful, and I ... you know, performing at the Grammys was definitely the next step up from our little homemade video. It got some views, and definitely positioned us in a different...in a different space, and I think it raised awareness.
Brian Smiga: I had so many inbound calls from folks, and it was a beautiful performance. I know that you guys are going to have many more consciousness and activism-raising performances ahead.
Ginny Suss: Can I just say that we ... so Brooke, performing with Kesha ... performing, you know, we did a Spotify session with Jim James, and were on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon with Jim James, and we just did a big residency with Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner from The National, and all these amazing artists.
Ginny Suss: Working with other artists and collaborating with other artists is an incredible experience, because it kind of stretches us from outside of our own internal routine, and what we do. But at the end of the day, I think some of the most powerful performances we've participated in have been not filled with celebrity, and have in fact been about the work. You know, for me, my favorite performance we've ever done, we only had I think nine chorus members, and we went up to Harlem, and we sung songs in Spanish. We sung Spanish lullabies to children who were being held in a detention center when family separation sort of first exploded, and they were, you know, driving kids around the country to different locations.
Ginny Suss: That was just such a powerful moment. But, some of the moments where we've actively popped up in protest or done a direct action, have been more meaningful to me than any sort of collaboration we've had the opportunity to do.
Brian Smiga: That's wonderful. Now you've built a toolkit that enables other groups to create activist choruses. Talk about that, because they can have these kinds of experiences as well, and raise their voices as well.
Ginny Suss: Well, I think we had this idea, Brooke, you can speak to this, from, you know, the social media that we did behind the Women's March, involved a lot of toolkits, which were easily accessible documents that gave really pointed directions for actions that people could take. That kind of spoonfed various actions.
Ginny Suss: I know that Brooke and her team created a ton of these for the Women's March. I think when we first came up with the chorus, we were sort of still in that model of, "How can we empower people outside of where we are physically from our own little bubble, that's similar to the idea of these sister marches that popped up all over the globe?" We said, "Well, let's make one of our famous toolkits, and let people know what we did, and just sort of put it out there."
Ginny Suss: So, if someone's interested in creating their own chorus, they have some sort of frame of reference for how we made it happen. So, yeah, that's what we did, and there have been about, I think, nine or 10 choruses that have popped up across the country, and I think there's even a couple in other countries.
Brian Smiga: Ginny, where should people go if they want to learn more about forming a chorus, or utilizing your toolkit?
Ginny Suss: So, our toolkit is pinned on our Facebook page. So if you just go to Facebook/ResistanceRevivalChorus, you can find it.
Brian Smiga: Great. I think if you just put in Resistance Revival Chorus, you'll find it, and you'll find so many wonderful songs and works that you guys are producing. Is there new material? And are you bringing back to life new material that we should know about?
Brooke Williams: I would say we are definitely working on workshopping all sorts of new things. We have plans to record a record, which would be really exciting, and that's still, you know, in the preliminary stages. But, I mean, knowing Ginny, it'll go from preliminary stages to shooting the cover artwork, and, you know, it'll be out, you know, before you know it.
Brian Smiga: Yeah.
Brooke Williams: That's definitely a goal. We do ... you know, it's ... That I would say is probably one of the most logistically difficult things about being this many people, is that trying to get us together to, both sort of learn the songs that we're doing for our various performances, and then also, carve out time to write things, you know, to compose new work, can be very difficult.
Brooke Williams: Although, I will say that, actually, on a bus up to a gig in Massachusetts, we came up with a new song that is song that we sing all the time now, that-
Brian Smiga: What is the name of that song? I think that's a good place to close here.
Brooke Williams: That song is called "This Joy". (Editor’s Note: Musician Meah Pace brought “This Joy” to the Chorus and taught it to the members. It's a song that originates from the civil rights movement)
Brian Smiga: "This Joy". I love that song. I heard it, and I understand we're going to get a chance to hear that song at the TEDxAsburyPark Conference.
Brian Smiga: Brooke and Ginny, I have to close this interview now, but I wish we could keep going.
Brian Smiga: This has been Brian Smiga with Brooke Williams and Ginny Suss from the Resistance Revival Chorus. They'll be appearing with their team at TEDxAsburyPark on Saturday, May 18th, 2019 at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park. You can get your tickets at TEDxAsburyPark.com.
Brian Smiga: Thanks so much, and I look forward to hearing you in a couple of days.
Brooke Williams: All right, thank you.
Ginny Suss: Thanks so much.