Singing in the Light – The Tale of a Long and Shining Collaboration


For over ten years, my monthly community song circle has supported the work of Fifty Lanterns International, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that brings solar power to people in the developing world. We call the gatherings “Singing in the Light” for that very purpose. (And we like the double entendre….)

When the singers arrive, they put money in a basket at the door. All of the funds go to the cause. The church where we meet (Hennepin Avenue United Methodist, Minneapolis) donates the space and I donate my time. In the past months each gathering has included over 60 singers of all ages and musical abilities. We sing just for the joy of it in the oral tradition. We raise anywhere from $250 to $500 each time we meet.  Once in awhile someone writes a big check to support the work.

At the beginning of every gathering, I mention that our singing together that afternoon is going to have a direct and positive effect on specific people far away. We sing for our own illumination, for that of our community, and for strangers we’ll never meet. The awareness that what we are doing is having a direct benefit on people’s lives enriches our experience.

Over the years our singing has helped fund diverse projects that bring light and power (literally and metaphorically) to

War widows and their children in Afghanistan
Health care professionals in rural India
Earthquake survivors in Pakistan, Haiti, and Kashmir
Midwives in rural Honduras
Coffee farmers in Rwanda

More recently the work has focused on providing larger solar installations for structures where there is no electric power available. One Fifty Lanterns project installed solar power at a Rwandan health care clinic that provided services for 20,000 refugees.

In a recent conversation with Fifty Lanterns founder, Linda Cullen, she told me about their current project – providing solar power for a fast-growing school for Maasai girls in Tanzania.

These girls are mostly from rural villages where they are often expected to forego education for early marriage. The founder of the school, Minnesotan Deb Pangrel, works closely with the girls’ parents to advocate for education. A number of the students feel compelled run away from their villages in order to escape forced marriage and further their education. The school has grown quickly and is currently adding another building and a science lab. Learn more about the school here:

Fifty Lanterns is in a transition now after years of good work. Linda has decided to focus all future donations on the school in Tanzania and to sunset the non-profit over the coming year. She is still passionate about the work, but has found that the care and feeding of a nonprofit is not her calling.

She and her husband, Mike Gallagher, recently completed a beautiful solar-powered house north of the Twin Cities. They aptly named it Peacefield Farm. Plans are afoot to host a Singing in the Light gathering there sometime this summer.

It will be a joy to bring song to our friend and “shero” in gratitude for her beautiful work in lighting up the world.





About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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4 Responses to Singing in the Light – The Tale of a Long and Shining Collaboration

  1. Lynn OBrien Music says:

    This is just one of my Favorite emails ever. THANK YOU FOR BEING YOU!!!!


  2. helenkosings says:

    I love this idea! I so want to start a community song circle, but I’ve no idea *how* to get it started. Any advice you might have would be deeply appreciated!

    • Hi Helen, Well, it’s pretty simple. Gather a handful of songs (I strongly prefer oral tradition ones), a handful of friends, and just begin! For years there weren’t many people showing up at mine, but persistence paid off. Good luck and let me know how you fare!

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