"I always tell members, 'Songs are like medicine for your soul,'" says Womansong director Debbie Nordeen.
, this is significantly more than a charming adage.
While hospitalized some years back, Nordeen
drew great comfort from a certain traditional ballad, titled "How Can I Keep From Singing?
Written in 1864 by Anne Warner, the song - perhaps rooted in N.C.'s Iredell County - was resurrected in 1957 by one Doris Plenn, who, with the McCarthy hearings in mind, added the following verse: "When tyrants tremble sick with fear and hear their death knells ringing; When friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile our thoughts to them are winging; When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?"
, the added verse seemed shiveringly applicable to a host of current social ills, prompting her
to christen her
chorus' latest performance after the song.
And while group members' median age hovers in the late '40s, Womansong
is by no means an exclusive club, Nordeen
"[Womansong members] feel free," Nordeen
In fact, one former reluctant - previously the group's shyest member - will perform a solo at the upcoming show.
Besides traditional folk arrangements and ethnic songs (the group has long catered to a world beat), many of Womansong's pieces are written by members themselves, or their friends and family members.
The director's sister, a professional singer and songwriter, is a regular contributor.
"Our songs come to us," Nordeen
Certain tunes are performed a capella, but members' drums, cellos, harps, guitars and other instruments often lend added resonance.
And while song arrangements may vary, Womansong's
one sure endeavor is to be of service to other women: Proceeds from their upcoming performances will benefit both Helpmate
and Womansong's own New Start Fund.
"The New Start Fund offers small amounts of money for [emergencies]; for example, someone who might be getting their electricity turned off," explains Nordeen
Members have been known to meet recipients in grocery-store parking lots on Christmas Eve with emergency funds, she
The group's rising popularity in Asheville and beyond required Nordeen to schedule two performances for their upcoming show.
"We've had attendances of 400 in the past, and Diana Wortham Theatre only seats 500," Nordeen points out.
"We have people coming from all over - Indiana, Illinois, South Carolina - to see this show, and I didn't want any of them to be that 501st person."
is naturally pleased that Womansong
is drawing so many admirers.
own memory reminds her
that the songs the chorus shares with its fans work even greater miracles in times of private need.
"When I was sick, and I sang ["How Can I Keep From Singing?"] to myself, it gave me strength," she
recalls, adding emotionally, "I know a woman who survived Hurricane Hugo in a root cellar, singing that song while the roof blew apart over her