Eating & Drinking

SING-ALONG ACTIVISM: A Q&A with choir director Greg Furlong

Greg Furlong (at right) with members of the choir — on the Hill for Climate Action Day in 2009

Greg Furlong is the director of Just Voices, described as “an activist choir” on its website. Furlong had a music background, had sung in choirs before, and, in 2004, decided it was time to put together a project that reflected the issues he, and others, felt most strongly about.

Just Voices performs songs with an environmental or social justice theme. The Urban Hippie wanted to know more, and Furlong gamely submitted to a Q&A. Read on to find out why he doesn’t just sign a petition and be done with it, how Bertolt Brecht factors in, and whether he thinks he’s actually making a difference.

How many members do you have, and who are they?
There are about 20 people. The kind of people who come out are, well, it’s hard to categorize. We get all ages, we have people in their early 20s and we have people who are in their 70s for sure. I guess you would say people who have some kind of musical background, who are interested in performing songs that have that kind of message. A message of social justice, or the environment, or peace.

Where do you draw your musical inspiration from?
There’s a lot of older material, political songs and parodies that go back years and years. A lot of that stuff is hopelessly outdated at this point, but some of it is fairly universal, and so we’ve mined that kind of stuff. The songs of Bertolt Brecht for example, from pre-war Germany, that kind of material we can still draw on for social justice messages. Then we do take music and write new words for it, and there’s a few original songs. And there’s other choirs around the planet that do this kind of thing, and there is some sharing [of material] there too.

Why do you believe you’re making a difference?
Are we making a difference? I think that it’s important for everybody to act… you can’t just be dissatisfied with the way things are, you need to get out there and do something about it, and this is a small gesture in that direction. I come from a big musical background and it’s nice to incorporate these kinds of ideals in the music.

Give me your top three issues that you think we should focus on in Canada.
I think the environment is the biggest one and has been for a long time, because basically that’s everything. Social justice is also a huge one, an ongoing battle. We seem to take a few steps forward and go back a few steps. I think those are the two biggest ones in a broad way. In a specific way, there are easy targets, like the latest budget bill that went through, which is a total disaster in many ways for these issues. What can I say? It’s just on ongoing battle. The forces of money making are pretty much pitched against all these issues.

Why a choir and not just petitions or something?
Well, petitions sound really boring, for one thing. It’s a performing group, so you have a chance to get out there and do some interesting things and interact with people. With a performing group you can get messages across that people normally wouldn’t accept in other ways. And I mean, we do tend to be a little earnest at times. A petition has to be nothing but earnest, people have to sign on or whatever, but there’s a whole social thing that happens when a group performs, there’s an interaction with the audience and the group, and there’s stuff that happens there that you can’t replicate just by putting your name on a petition.