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.
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!