Sing Fires of Justice: Exploring the Impact of a Community-based Music and Social Justice Tradition


  • Lee Willingham Wilfrid Laurier University
  • Debbie Lou Ludolph Waterloo Lutheran Seminary


A Saturday morning choral workshop for church music leaders in 2005 has mushroomed into a full-blown community choral event that raises funds and sheds a spotlight on a social justice cause. In this paper and presentation we provide the rationale and the strategic planning that has seen Sing Fires of Justice grow from a scheduled choral conductors’ clinic and celebration of Reformation Sunday into an annual ecumenical event. Sing Fires brings together church choir singers and their directors from various denominations, the Faculty of Music and the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary of Wilfrid Laurier University, Royal Canadian College of Organists, Conrad Grebel University (Mennonite) of the University of Waterloo, community choirs, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, the K-W Youth Symphony, and carefully selected guest speakers who animate the cause that is being supported and challenge the perspectives of those in attendance. Causes that have been addressed include Out of the Cold shelter for homeless people, Project Ploughshares peace initiatives, KAIROS environmental justice, and ISARC interfaith coalition that addresses poverty issues. With video clips, slides, and narrative, we outline the process that starts each year with a small representative planning committee and culminates in a weekend of workshops, rehearsals, and finally a public service featuring chamber choirs and a mass choral ensemble with a guest conductor. This presentation will address artistry and leadership, volunteering, partnerships, social justice, liturgy, and community building through choral music. Research on the impact of this event is being launched, and future papers will report on the findings of Sing Fires of Justice.

Author Biographies

Lee Willingham, Wilfrid Laurier University

Lee Willingham is Associate Professor of Music at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada and Director of the Laurier Centre for Music in the Community. In addition, Dr. Willingham coordinates the music education and choral programs. Prior to his appointment at WLU, he served on the faculty of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of University of Toronto. Previously, he served as the Curriculum Coordinator for Music in the former Scarborough Board of Education and also served a term as President of the Ontario Music Educators' Association. Dr. Willingham devotes much time to teacher education and choral singing. He has adjudicated and provided workshops for students and choral conductors across Canada and in the U.S. He is the founding conductor of Toronto’s Bell’Arte Singers and since his retirement from that choir, is busy conducting the Laurier Singers Chamber Choir and Concert Choir. For ten years he served as editor of the Canadian Music Educator, a national journal for teachers and frequently contributes articles and book chapters on a variety of topics. In June of 2009 he was appointed Director of the Canadian Music Education Research Consortium.

Debbie Lou Ludolph, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary

Debbie Lou Ludolph combines a love of vocal pedagogy, a passion for community singing, and a link between faith and justice in her work. She teaches voice at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario and is Director of the Kanata Centre for Worship and Global Song at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, WLU. With a background in musical theatre and vocal performance, Debbie Lou has taught undergraduate voice students for many years and offered workshops in vocal technique and vocal health throughout southwestern Ontario. With a specific interest in the opportunity for Canadians to grow in relationship to the rest of the world by building bridges to other cultures, Debbie Lou teaches a course in worship and global song, and directs Inshallah, a WLS community choir committed to singing global song. Recently, she has led worship and music on two study trips to Palestine/Israel with WLS and created opportunities for workshops and public conversations about Christian worship practice and ecumenical, inter-faith and music opportunities for working together towards the common good in the community.