O Sister (Keep Me Steady Through the Storm)

Program Notes:

About O Sister

During the 2016-2017 academic year, the Voices of Hope partnered with the University of Minnesota Women’s Chorus on a project entitled “Phenomenal Woman.” Inspired by a set of poems written by Maya Angelou, the two choirs prepared music written for women, by women. Each choir worked separately, with occasional opportunities for small groups from UMN to come to the prison for a shared rehearsal. In February of 2017, the two choirs performed together at the prison, each choir singing a few pieces separately and then several together.

For this project, we commissioned University of Minnesota poet D Allen to write a text and Canadian composer Kathleen Allan to set it, as a sign of unity and partnership between the two choirs. The Voices of Hope helped brainstorm words or phrases they felt should be represented in the text (see column above), and from this, D created the poem, “O Sister.” I asked Kathleen to compose a piece that the Voices of Hope could perform again the future, without a partnering choir. Her composition fit our needs perfectly, and has continued to be a favorite for the Voices of Hope. When other choirs sing this piece, it is as if the voices of incarcerated women are finally able to be heard beyond the fence.

About the Voices of Hope

The Voices of Hope is a women’s prison choir at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee, MN. Founded in October 2015 by Dr. Amanda Weber, the choir has grown from 15 to nearly 50 singers. They rehearse every Sunday afternoon and perform several times a year at the prison for other incarcerated women. Additionally, whenever possible, the Voices of Hope collaborate with musicians from outside of the prison as a way to bridge communities and educate the public about the U.S. criminal justice system. In the last three years, Voices of Hope has served approximately 200 singers inside of the prison and has collaborated with approximately 200 musicians from the surrounding community.

Voices of Hope Mission

The Voices of Hope is a women’s prison choir at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee, MN. The choir was founded in October 2015 by Amanda Weber and rehearses weekly at the prison.
MISSION: The Voices of Hope is a women’s prison choir that fosters individual growth and bridges unlikely communities through song.

HOPES: We recognize that the Voices of Hope has a dual calling to serve communities both inside and outside of the prison:

The Voices of Hope provides a safe and sober activity which empowers women to find their voice, build connections in a diverse setting, and bring a positive message of hope and healing to the MCF-Shakopee community.

The Voices of Hope views singing as a powerful tool of restorative justice, seeking to transform perspectives of incarceration and build bridges of healing within the wider community through collaboration and reflection.

Sign up for occasional updates from the Voices of Hope at www.amandakateweber.com
Consider supporting the Voices of Hope with a financial gift at
Watch Amanda’s TEDx talk about music and restorative justice at
Watch the UMN Women’s Chorus perform “O Sister” without Voices of Hope on February 24, 2017 – just twelve days after their performance at the prison: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUOTQS8_b2s

About Voices of Hope conductor Amanda Weber

Amanda Weber is a conductor, teacher, performer, artist, and activist who is passionate about uniting music, art, and community through her work. Weber’s interest in using music as a tool for social justice grew through her work at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, D.C., where she founded Bethany’s Women of Praise, a choir for homeless women. Her recent work with the Voices of Hope has been featured by the StarTribune and as a TEDx talk; additionally, she has presented at numerous conferences, often collaborating with other leaders in the field of choral music and incarceration.

Weber holds a DMA in Conducting from the University of Minnesota, an MM in Choral Conducting from the Yale School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music, and a BA in Music and Art from Luther College.

Conductor Notes:

I chose this work to be the massed choir piece at Elektra’s annual Choral Leadership Workshop in January 2019, where the singers were high school and adult women. Its approachable music and powerful message were perfect for the occasion. Kathleen was able to drop in and talk about its creation. A wonderful and rich experience. The YouTube track is the run-through we did at the end of the evening.


This lists any discs, concerts or collections where this piece is included.