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Sing, sing a song!
My ridiculously fun, completely fulfilling, entirely addictive life inside Choir!Choir!Choir!

I love to sing. I love it so much, in fact, that I do it practically everywhere: in the shower, of course, but also under my breath on the streetcar; tremulously on crowded streets; in the bathroom at work. My neighbours have suffered through my enthusiastic renditions of Bill Amesbury’s “Virginia” – which I’m listening to as I write this – enough times to fill days. I sing when I’m happy, when I’m disappointed, and when I’m getting ready to go out. Often, singing is the only thing that feels right, even when it’s so wrong. While I’ve often thought of legitimizing my warblings by joining a choir, the process always seemed too intimidating for an amateur like me. It wasn’t until last December, while suffering through a particularly soul-crushing holiday hangover, that my desire to join a choir became more pressing. Lying on the sofa, gulping Gatorade and watching crappy TV, I happened on a Slice Network promo advertising an upcoming The Sing Off marathon. I struggled into a sitting position. The Sing Off, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, is American Idol meets Glee, an hour-long show hosted by former boy-bander Nick Lachey on which choral groups compete for the approval of the audience and judges Ben Folds, formerly of Ben Folds Five; Shaun Stockman, one of the Boyz II Men; and Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. My mind was blown. Over the course of the nine – yes, nine – hour marathon, I watched, enthralled, as The Whiffenpoofs, Yale’s men’s choir, did a brassy rendition of Mika’s “Grace Kelly” dressed in tail tuxedos. I cheered on The Backbeats, a super-group from L.A., as they beatboxed their way through the B-52’s “Love Shack.” And I harmonized with eventual winners Committed as they brought an R&B vibe to my favourite – there, I said it – Maroon 5 song, “This Love.” Through the haze of my hangover, I couldn’t chase the thought: Ben Folds, Shaun Stockman, Nicole Scherzinger and Nick Lachey, on the same show? And then, more insistent: Wouldn’t life be better if I was in a choir? Googling “Choirs and Toronto,” however, turned up a lot of groups that required auditions and, I imagined, talent. Though I spent my childhood singing in church choirs, I’m an untrained singer at best. I tried “singing lessons Toronto.” There were many more results, but most options were well out of my price range. After about an hour, I gave up. Discouraged, I went to YouTube, typed in PS22 and belted out “Walk Like an Egyptian” along with the forty-odd ten-year-olds grooving asynchronously on my computer screen. When the song was over, I played it again. Fast-forward to the end of January. Over drinks at the Queen and Beaver, a friend told me about a choir that musician and Food Jammer Nobu Adilman was starting with Aunties and Uncles co-owner Daveed Goldman. Called Choir!Choir!Choir!, it grew out of a performance Adilman, Goldman and others gave at the Victory Caf a couple of years ago for a friend’s surprise party. Though they’d often talked about trying to get people together for semi-regular rehearsals, they’d never quite found the time until now. I was jazzed. I joined Choir!Choir!Choir!’s Facebook group, and spent the next few mornings with our first two songs–“Nowhere Man,” by The Beatles and Pilot’s “Just a Smile” – on repeat. By the time our first rehearsal rolled around, I was nervous but prepared. I arrived armed with a bottle of wine to quell my trepidation, which I added to the collection of contributions accumulating on the floor. Then I moved to the back of the circle, humming nervously into my glass. Singing with strangers can be fun, sure, but it is also terrifying. It takes awhile to establish the sense of community that seals the group. Until you do, you’re just a collection of funny faces emphatically mouthing lines like “Don’t you know you’re turning me on/Turn me on” to one another across a room. It’s now been more than two months since that first rehearsal, and Choir!Choir!Choir! has gone supernova. People just can’t get enough. Every Wednesday, a group of about 35 to 45 of us meet at the Monarch Tavern to sing a couple of songs. Adilman and Goldman set the pitch and speed, and the rest of us follow along as best we can. “I wanted to do fun singalong songs,” says Goldman of Choir!’s classic rock focus. (Yes, the name That 70s Choir has been floated more than once.) “They’re all songs that I love and that remind me of when I was a kid.” After a few warm-up rounds, we add harmonies, otherwise known as the high oooos, the middle oooos and the low oooos. There are a lot of false starts, and quite a few false notes, but for a bunch of casual singers – the musicians in the group are outnumbered by comedians, TV producers, subway dancers, cooks, filmmakers, writers, deli owners, etc. – I think we’re pretty fucking good. “We didn’t want to start this so it would be an amazing musical group. We wanted it to be a fun social activity,” says Goldman. “It’s fun because it’s amateur; little mistakes here and there make it more human and inclusive.” Case in point: “Say You Love Me,” by Fleetwood Mac: Thirty of us are grouped by part and crammed into a space by the dimly lit bar. Adilman and Goldman are in the middle of the circle. Adilman brandishes his conductor’s baton – a red pencil – while Goldman tries to get us all into key. Our motivations for being here range from curiosity to a love of singing to an appreciation of the gezelligheid that builds every week. Balancing lyric sheets and pints, we chatter between rounds about jobs and friends and songs we’d like to sing. Then, on cue, Adilman and Goldman’s good-cop-bad-cop routine kicks in: “That was great, guys!” Adilman says. “That was terrible,” Goldman adds, half-jokingly. And we go again until we get it approximately right. A member of Choir! Choir! Choir! recently drafted a survey to help us vote on which songs we’d sing at our first show. I chose “Sister Golden Hair” by America (after a particularly successful rendition, Goldman told us we’d just made one of his childhood dreams come true, which closed that sale) and “S.O.S.” by ABBA (note the clapping and the stomping). According to some of the other poll questions, Choir’s favourite Kool-aid flavour is cherry, most of us are between 25 and 45, and many consider choir practice to be the best part of the week. “My favourite part has to be watching people getting into it,” says Adilman. “It’s a group connection that’s so powerful, but everyone is doing their own thing. There’s an innocence to it.” A few weeks ago, I went to practice and admitted to Kate, Choir!’s unofficial cookie-baker, that I’d been practicing one of our songs – “Telephone Line,” by ELO – while biking home the previous night and became so absorbed that I crashed into the back of a parked car. She nodded knowingly and told me about a similar accident she’d had after one of our first practices. Choir! may be dangerously addictive, but I can’t see myself ever suffering from a Choir! hangover. These days, I think about what songs we should sing at choir more than I think about, well, anything else. If I may take liberties with a 1966 hit by The Troggs: “Choir!, you make my heart sing/You make everything groovy/Choir! I think I love you.”

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