In February of 2019, Shelley Graff, singer-songwriter and Singing in Sacred Circle facilitator, attended an evening celebration hosted by a CUUPS group in Fort Myers. The evening was filled with chanting and drumming with women who were spirited and welcoming! The next month, Shelley joined wih the UUCFM choir to offer some songs/chants for International Women’s Day. At the end of the Sunday service, Shelley was approached by Mary Cline Gobitz who asked if she could help the women start a Singing in Sacred Circle. Actually, a few years back, the women had a Women’s Singing/Chanting Circle but it was no longer meeting. Thus, it was a natural fit for Shelley to help revive the Singing Circle!
Unfortunately, because Shelley needed to return home to Ohio, the Singing in Sacred Circle was put on hold until she returned to Florida in 2020. Thus, in January of 2020 a small group started meeting every Tuesday night to sing in community. The core members of the Singing Circle were: Mary Cline Gobitz, Alberita Johnson, Carole Latino, Toni Latino, Ruth King, Suzanne Ziemer and Genelle Grant. A year later, Lesley Peterson joined the Singing Circle. This weekly core group of singers was enthusiastic and eager to learn and teach chants! Most importantly, they loved the sisterhood and spirit community that resulted from their singing together.
One night at the end of Singing in Sacred Circle, Shelley mentioned in passing that, because she traveled throughout the southern region and nation offering singing circle workshops/retreats, she hoped to one day host a regional or national winter Singing in Sacred Circle Gathering/Festival in Florida. Shelley didn’t really know the core group of singers very well but quickly learned that they were all movers and shakers! Two weeks later Shelley received an email from Genelle Grant with a blueprint detailing how the Singing in Sacred Circle core group would be hosts for a Women’s Singing Festival in Ft. Myers starting in 2021. Thus, after meeting on Zoom for a year, SingFest was no longer a vision...it became a reality.
Unfortunately, in March of 2020, one rather daunting challenge forced us to shift all of our plans...Covid-19! Our core group continued to meet and sing on Zoom every Tuesday afternoon. We even facilitated a couple of Sunday services via Zoom! However, because of the pandemic, we had to relinquish the notion of hosting an in person SingFest in 2021.
Even though we were not able to come together in person for SingFest 21, our core members organized a very successful virtual gathering called Virtual Singfest 2021! Women from all over the country joined a Friday night Zoom Singing in Sacred Circle where singing circles from California, Maine, Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and beyond shared videos of their Singing Circles singing one chant. Next, we did a Zoom Singing in Sacred Circle where women offered to facilitate chants while everyone sang along at home. Guest facilitators such as Melanie DeMore, Linda Smith Koehler with Rissa Moore, Ruth Barrett, Renee Janski, Wild Bodema, and Shelley Graff facilitated Saturday afternoon workshops and then performed in a Saturday night concert.
In January of 2022, the SingFest Committee was prepared to move forward with an “in-person” and Virtual festival, but had to change gears two weeks before the event because there was a Covid spike in Southwest Florida and it was too dangerous to hold an in-person event! However, once again, womyn joined in from all over the country to experience some amazing workshops hosted by Linda Smith Koehler and Rissa Moore: Singing In Sacred Circle (Maine), Natalie Jackson: Traditional African Drumming/Rhythms and Movements (Florida), Barbara Gail: The Tambourine Path~An Introduction in the Tradition of Layne Redmond (Florida) Shelley Graff: Singing in Sacred Circle (Florida/Ohio) and Albie Johnson: The Magic of Poetry.
The vision to host an “in person” SingFest 2023 finally came true. However, because Hurricane Ian left Fort Myers in a state of disrepair, SingFest 2023 was moved to St. Petersburg, Florida at the last minute. Thanks to the amazing work of Marsha and Susan, we were immediately connected to multiple churches and groups who were interested in supporting SingFest 2023! Thus, our vision for a hybrid event, where womyn attended both in person and via Zoom, became a reality! The planning for SingFest 2024 in St. Petersburg is now in process!