What the world needs now is love, sweet love…and song leaders!

The You Gotta Sing! Chorus officially launched in the summer of 2011 with 19 shining members. We now have over 375 people coming out to sing every week!  We all blossom when given the opportunity to sing in a safe, non-judgmental circle of song.

“The more, the merrier” and “come one, come all” have been at the centre of our choir model from the very beginning.  With our ever-growing membership, however, I recently made the very difficult decision to create a Wait List for newcomers who wish to join our choir.  With a choir of our size, it is important to make sure that folks can see the director, can feel comfortable in the singing space, and can connect and get to know each other a little better at rehearsals and events.

I believe that we all we all deserve to have a safe singing space where we find acceptance,  joy, and freedom as we let our voices, and indeed our very selves, find expression.

YGS will continue to present many BIG SING community events and workshops that welcome all.  Keep checking in with our Home Page for updated details on exciting offerings.

We also actively support and promote other choirs in HRM who offer similar open-access, inclusive, and safe singing opportunities.  Leading others in song has been deeply transformational and healing for me.  We need more song leaders in our world.

If you feel that spark of desire, or even curiosity about what it might be like to get the harmonies cooking in your circle, you can check out the incredible team of Shivon Robinsong and Denis Donnelly, my dear teachers, and their transformational program: Community Choir Leadership Training

What a gift to encourage others to sing!  It changes lives, one song at a time, and is available to us all.


~Song lyrics by Hal David; music by Burt Bacharach


Leap of Faith


18 weeks ago, I took a leap of faith. I knew that I wasn’t doing enough for my soul. I wanted more of a routine than work, sleep, repeat. I asked myself what was missing and what my heart needed most. I googled “Halifax choirs” and happened upon You Gotta Sing Chorus. I liked their “feel” of inclusivity and cheerfulness, so I signed up.

I knew nobody, and showed up with butterflies in my stomach that were so big I was afraid that they might escape. I arrived early and seated myself where I thought I might “fit”. People filed in, chattering excitedly, greeting others that they knew. Next, a woman (Susan) came in and seated herself next to me. I asked how long she’d been in the choir and we discovered that we were both new. We each thought we might be Sopranos and committed to figuring out “Sopranoism” together. Along the way we met Katie & Hilary who have completed our joyful [and sometimes mischievous] Soprano quartet (also known as “the posse”).

These past four and a half months have been An incredible journey of learning, laughter, and love. I can’t fully describe it, but I’ll try.

I’ve learned – that sometimes I surprise myself. That complete strangers can (and will!) care about your well being. That a drop in the bucket eventually makes a wave. To be more open. That taking chances and going out on a limb can pay off huge. To be incredibly grateful for those who are following their passion & their heart’s (divine?) leading: these are the people who enable many others to do the same. To be part of a whole. That the world is full of SO MANY interesting and talented people. That talents sometimes weave together to create beautiful things. That sometimes creating something beautiful requires bravery as individuals (but also as a collective.)

I am so happy with where I am these days. Each week I’ve looked forward to Tuesday. To update my new friends (and be updated!) on the joys and trials of life, to be with “my kind”, and to be embraced and lifted. Sometimes at the end of a song, I can’t help but giggle, or proclaim “YES!” as if joy just escapes from me involuntarily.

To see Vanessa BEAMING with pride in front of us mouthing the words “this is beautiful!” makes me swell with happiness. When our concerts end, my face often hurts from smiling. Thank you Vanessa, for allowing us the privilege to be part of your heart, story, and song. Your selflessness is inspiring.

I’m a better person because this choir is in my life. There’s not a shred of doubt in my heart about it.

If there’s something you’re missing folks – chase it. Take a baby step in the right direction, or throw down your pen and chase that special something with wreckless abandon. I promise. It’s worth it.

Submitted by Jen Schwartz

(Photo left to right:  Katie, Jen, Vanessa, Susan, Hilary)

Singing from the heart ~ a vulnerable act

“Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come”  Chinese Proverb

The singing heart.  A vulnerable space of tender beginnings, tentative vibrations, emotion and spirit desiring to be released.  To send our song out freely feels like a wish, a whisper, sometimes a cage, and when fully realized a bursting forth, freedom, belonging, and cause for celebration!

I am blessed to receive people’s stories of voice and singing.  These stories of hurt and hope, shared often with a self-deprecating laugh or wistful, watery eyes tell of times when the person was told to “mouth the words” or to “not sing.”  When the love of singing overshadows the fear of others (or our own) judgement about our voices, the resulting magic can change lives.

Singing is our birthright.  Our voices claim our space, speak our truth, and celebrate our wild and powerful beauty.  Senseless and thoughtless voices can tear great rifts in our confidence and momentarily unseat us.

Let this be a new moment.  Let the great hum of the wonder-full world around you set your lips vibrating with the gentle, internal sound that lets you know that you are here.  You have a voice.  You don’t have to sound pretty.  You don’t have to be an idol.  You don’t even have to be good.

The same vulnerability you feel when you sing is exactly the shining thing that I love about your sound.  So, add your sound to the symphony of life going on around you all the time.  The ache, the hurt, the wonder, the joy … it’s all there in the texture, tone, breath, timbre, and rhythm of you!

And we should be so lucky to hear you…

Thanksgiving Song #2

Back in 1999, I was leaving my favourite coffee shop in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood of Toronto, and I noticed a poster for a women’s singing circle.  Intrigued and excited, I joined the group, led by Moon Joyce, and began a new journey into the world of self-discovery through my voice.  I experienced feelings of freedom, joy, and connection that only grew while singing with these women.  This singing experience wasn’t about performance or perfection, and yet the beauty that came out of our sessions together was stunning to me.  I carried these songs home with me each night.  I felt like I belonged, just as I was, with this group.

I continued to study vocal improvisation with Moon and keenly observed her expertise in song leading.  A truly gifted songstress and facilitator, Moon teaches from the belief that we all have the right to sing; that the songs we sing can empower us to let go of perceived boundaries and limitations; and that singing in community belongs to all people, not just a chosen few.  Many thanks to you, Moon, for inspiring me to continue on in this important and life-changing work!

Fast forward to 2001.  I happened upon a documentary that completely changed my life:  SING!  Healing, Community, Celebration, produced by Shivon Robinsong and Bill Weaver.  It follows the amazingly moving and passionate work of community song leaders extraordinaire:  Gina Sala, Laurel Murphy, Shivon Robinsong, Ann Mortifee, and Rhiannon.   These women became my beloved mentors and I watched this film over and over, feeling like I had come home to myself and to my purpose on this earth.  I wanted to help myself and others sing without judgement, to express the truth about ourselves in sound and song, and to find community within a wider, singing human family.

While sharing my passionate connection to this film with Shivon over the phone, she let me know that she was launching a course called “Community Choir Leadership Training” in Victoria, B.C. and encouraged me to attend.   It took 10 years of the continuous bubbling of my passion for community singing, 2 babies, a major move from Ontario to Nova Scotia, ever-steady support and encouragement from my husband, John, and the launch of my very own community choir, the You Gotta Sing! Chorus, before I finally made the trek to Victoria to meet both Shivon Robinsong and Denis Donnelly!  And what a tuneful, soulful, uplifting meeting that was!

Thank you, Shivon and Denis, for your gentle and persistent encouragement over the years, for song leading with heart, compassion, and great, great skill. You are both shining lights of inspiration for me, and for so many others!


Thanksgiving Song #1

This is my absolute favourite time of year, especially here in Nova Scotia.  As we embark on the 2nd fall season of the You Gotta Sing! Chorus, I am in a constant state of gratitude for all the incredible people that have helped me on the path to becoming a community song leader.  

I was blessed with hearing my mother’s voice as she read to me.  I remember absorbing the vibrations through her chest into my little self and soaking up all her loving words.  

My maternal grandmother would sing “diddle-dee” songs and bounce me on her knee, telling me silly, made-up stories while she stroked my hair.  I learned about improvisation and playfulness from her.

My paternal grandmother had a fiery passion for music, especially organ music, and encouraged me as a young pianist and singer.  She loved to hear me play the harp and sing in her later years.  She taught me to appreciate the power and beauty of music and its capacity to lift away cares and troubles.

My aunt was my first beloved music teacher.  As a toddler I would sit beside her at the piano and fell in love with the way her hands moved over the keys and the delicious sounds that filled my ears.  This started a love affair with my first instrument, the piano.  I could express feelings and thoughts without any words at all.  My first taste of musical freedom.

I found another “home” in school choirs and theatre productions.  Nothing beat the feeling of creating something with others, bonding in friendship and mutual admiration, and then sharing our creation with an appreciative audience.  

I have been so very blessed along the way with excellent piano and singing teachers.  Every single one of them taught with heart and wisdom and gave me exactly what I needed at the time in my life when I needed it most.  Whenever I desire their guidance and expertise, I can bring up the sensations and memories of our lessons together ~ what a gift and joy in my life!  I would often leave these sessions with great energy and enthusiasm and write copious notes, fired up to teach others what I had just learned!  Thank you Catherine Holbrook, Arelene Wright, Theresa Thibodeau, Catherine Robbin, Deborah Joy, Ali Garrison, and Tannis Sprott!  

There is so much magnificence

“There is so much magnificence near the ocean, waves are coming in, waves are coming in.”

Summertime in Nova Scotia abounds with the smell of salt water in the air, the feel of gentle breezes on sun-warmed skin, and the sound of the waves rushing onto the beach.  

I’ve been experiencing the cooling and uplifting experience of singing this song by Miten with YGS for the past 2 months.  Every time we sing it, I can feel the gentle rhythm of being carried and supported by all of our voices together. Such a joy!

We’ll be sharing this song and many others next Thursday, August 23 at the Northwood Community Centre at 7 PM. 2615 Northwood Terrace, Shirley Burnstein Hall.  Freewill donation at the door.

Community singing events, like this one, are a wonderful way to sit and soak up the sounds around you and maybe, if you feel like it…joining in the wave of song and letting your voice out into the room.

May we all experience the cooling waves of rest, refreshment, and renewal as we gather up the energy to burst into fall with full fiery colour and joy.



Songs that connect us to each other…

You know that feeling you get when everyone around you is singing and you all know the song well enough to enjoy yourselves fully, even try out a few harmonies, have the confidence to look around and smile at the people around you …?

A birthday party, perhaps?  Or a sporting event where everyone knows the chants that lift the team’s spirits, “Let’s go, let’s go, Blue Jays…”; a sing-along that is specifically geared to a particular age group:  “kids’ music,” “seniors’ music”;  a church where hymns are selected by a few and shared among congregants; a political rally; or youth sharing songs on their ipods, ear buds in place, shuffling through their fav songs together.

These are all valuable ways that we can connect and share our lives through the power of song.

What about that feeling that comes from “spontaneous” singing, (like in musicals that we know and love or Glee) where strangers become friends, new songs are learned quickly and fairly easily, and there’s that almost immediate feeling of “oh yeah, I belong here.  I feel accepted.  My voice is okay.  Gosh, I can’t believe I’m singing and everything’s still okay, great, in fact!”  I’ve had a few experiences in my life that have altered my notions of community singing in very memorable, moving, and inspiring ways.  Times when I’ve been surrounded by others, usually in a casual atmosphere, and the gift of song is shared spontaneously, and I’ve lost a little bit of fear and gained a greater feeling of belonging.  There’s something magical about just singing together in someone’s living room, around a campfire, huddled around the piano, or at one of our choir rehearsals.

It can really happen!  This is how we teach children how to sing.  We make eye contact, we smile, we teach them the words orally, we review again and again.  There’s lots of time, space, and repetition for a little person to learn how their voice works.  Singing is a skill.  It can be learned.  Can you imagine someone saying to a one year old, “Stop singing, you’re no good at that.”?

We can all sing.  And we all deserve to be able to sing in meaningful, socially connective ways.  Community choirs in the Ubuntu Choir Network learn songs orally.  We share songs that have meaning, that demonstrate hope, courage, life-affirming themes and that welcome everyone into the experience.  The songs are generally easy to learn (a 5 minute or 10 minute song) and have lots of opportunities for rich harmonies, layered vocal parts, and are sung in many languages.  A shared repertoire is created, a shared song-history with other people.  And so, at a potluck, a rehearsal, a community event, a memorial, or a birth, we can break out into joyful or healing song, look around at our neighbours and friends and know that we belong.  We have a place in the choir, we have a place in our community.


Welcome to the YGS! Blog

The YGS! Chorus was first established in the summer of 2011. I ran a singing workshop for a few years prior to this called “You Gotta Sing!” My primary reason for starting this as a community choir was to create a safe space for all people to sing together, regardless of their experience as singers or non-singers. I believe that all people can and should have the opportunity to sing with others. As a singing teacher, I have come across too many people who have been shut down and musically wounded by being told to stop singing or that their voices weren’t good enough.

We have somewhere between 40 and 60 singers, depending on the season. There is no audition and there is a full bursary available for those who aren’t able to pay the registration fee, for whatever reason.

We end each season with a Celebration Concert, like the one we are doing this Friday. This is an opportunity for the choir to perform songs from the current season as well as a community singing component that I lead with the entire audience. (Those who wish to can sing along; those who wish to listen can do that also!) Everyone involved in the concert is volunteering their time and talents, and 100% of the net proceeds are donated to, in this case, the Stephen Lewis Foundations’ Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign.

We do this in the spirit of “giving back” to the African cultures, whose songs we are singing and to really make a positive difference in the world around us by singing together. The power of community singing can heal not only individuals within our own community, but also within the wider global community!