For 10 years, Helen Murphy has directed the Stella’s Circle Inclusion Choir, in St. John’s, N.L.
Murphy is a former music teacher whose love of song and social justice is boundless. It only takes a few minutes observing Murphy, organizing her weekly choir practice, to tell she’s a unifier.
“This choir is special, I suppose because it’s a non-audition choir. The only pre-requisite is to come and, if you love to sing, or want to sing with people, you’re in.”
The choir is an extraordinary collection of people.
Many live on the edges of Newfoundland society. But in the choir, they’re blended with staff from Stella’s Circle, the social agency that helps them find homes and jobs.
The organization’s employment director, Rob McLennan, says Murphy’s passion is special.
“She believes everyone can sing, and, with some fundamentals around starting together and ending together, she really creates a space where people feel comfortable.”
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Guiding the choir means being flexible and the praise for her efforts is profound.
“The choir saved my life,” said Anne Donovan.
“I had some mental health issues, and some addiction issues and once I stood up and embraced those, I just embraced the choir.”
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A fellow choir member, who prefers to be known simply as Sheldon, credits Murphy’s character with giving him a sense of purpose.
Murphy doesn’t just show up for weekly practices: She volunteers hours of additional time, preparing with her musicians.
It’s a natural extension of a long career spent advocating for the disadvantaged.
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Watching members find their voice in both the choir and their lives, brings her joy.
“It’s almost like watching community unfold before your eyes. Like, we see people coming in separately, as separate people, and now we see them coming in as a group and as a community,” she said.
The choir even joined with Newfoundland and Labrador songwriter Amelia Curran to write their own song for a Canada 150 project.
“I see the choir not just as a singing group but also as a group for change — change as in creating a just and a fair society for everyone.”