At their current pace, the InVocation singers are on track to have their most financially successful season. So, what will they do with all that money? Donate it to charity…what else?
That is what InVocation—an a cappella vocal ensemble—has done with nearly all the money it has raised since its inception three years ago. Committed to their mission, the InVocation singers donate their time, talent and treasure to the cause of social justice.
Based in Minneapolis, the 14-member group is comprised of highly-talented vocal musicians, many of whom previously sang in other notable choirs and music groups in the Twin Cities. Their backgrounds are varied, yet they were all drawn to InVocation because of a shared belief: that their music could strike a chord for change.
Milbrath, a speech-language pathologist for Early Childhood Special Education in Minneapolis, often uses songs to engage the children she works with. However, she finds that sharing her gift with an audience brings her the most joy. Also, her deep sense of social justice calls her to help those less fortunate. Being part of InVocation melds these two passions together.
The InVocation singers believe their singing talent can not only uplift those who enjoy their music but also enrich the lives of those in need. To that end, they use their singing voices to raise money for charities. Inspired by the quote “where deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” the group focuses on charities that provide meals to those who need them the most.
“The quote [by Fredrick Buechner] wasn’t necessarily about food hunger; but, we ended up tying it to hunger organizations. So for the past three years we have connected with hunger organizations to partner with,’ said Milbrath.
Each year, InVocation selects a charity as their partner, then holds a series of concerts throughout the Twin Cities in its honor. This partnership brings two groups—followers of InVocation and supporters of the charity—together as an audience. The concerts are free, but they ask for a free will offering, nearly all of which is given directly to the charity.
This method has been quite successful. After their winter/spring concerts two years ago, InVocation raised $4200 for Loaves & Fishes. Last year they received a combined total of $7200 in donations for Feed My Starving Children. Thus far, they have raised $4200 for Second Harvest Heartland just from the winter concert. Donations from their upcoming spring concert are likely to surpass previous levels.
The singers forego any payment for their performance, nor are they reimbursed for personal expenses such as clothing or sheet music. They all agreed early on that they wanted as much of the money as possible to reach their partner charity. The group retains a nominal portion of the donations strictly to cover additional expenses, such as paying any accompanying musicians.
Their dedication is also evident by the personal sacrifice the members make. The singers carve out time away from their daily commitments of work and family to gather for a two-hour weekly rehearsal.
“Everybody’s got another life so it can be challenging to get there and give all the energy you have,” said Milbrath.
One unique feature about InVocation’s singing style is performing without a choir director leading the group. Instead, they all stand side by side as equals. Milbrath said this creates additional work because they need to get their cues from fellow musicians rather than one person standing in the front. They find this unique style enhances their performances.
“We try to actually have a connection with the audience and each other while we’re singing, because if we have fun then hopefully everyone else will have fun, too,” said Milbrath.
The two concert series have distinct differences. Milbrath noted the repertoire for the December concert series often reflects the season with both familiar and rare holiday music. Their spring concerts are more eclectic. They provide an opportunity to explore different types of vocal music.
“Our two artistic directors really get a good collection of world music, so it does tend to be from all over,” said Milbrath.
For example, in their upcoming spring concert the group will sing chants from the Brazilian rainforest, a Hebrew peace prayer and music by Bobby McFerrin. In addition, they will also perform a special song written specifically for InVocation by Montana composer Tom Keesecker.
“You don’t get that very often so that was very nice,’ said Milbrath.
Their spring concert will end their partnership with Second Harvest Heartland. Beginning in December, their new charity partner will be House of Charity Food Centre in Minneapolis; thus continuing their commitment to use the gift of song to help feed those in need.
“As long as we feel there is a need and we continue to connect with charities that have that as their focus, it feels like a good match for us,” said Milbrath.
Deb Pleasants worked as a probation officer for 15 years prior to becoming a stay-at-home-mom. In addition to caring for her son, she is a freelance writer and citizen journalist. She resides in St. Paul with her family.