FOUNDERS OF CHOIR! CHOIR! CHOIR!
I answered a call on a Tuesday night from a friend who briefly invited me to "this choir thing his sister did at a bar once a week." That was all the convincing I needed. A few hours later, I wandered into No One Writes to the Colonel, and five minutes into the experience I began to comprehend what a special moment I had just become a part of. I was one in a group of mostly strangers that was completely owning a three part harmony rendition of The Go-Go's, "Our Lips Are Sealed". We undoubtedly rocked it that night, but I was most impressed by the way it came together. Daveed Goldman (right) & Nobu Adilman (left) ran the show with the right amount of humorous banter and musical aptitude needed to entice a room full of strangers to shove their fears aside and sing to their hearts' content. Choir! Choir! Choir! has grown into bigger venues, performing at the Juno Awards, TedXToronto, and most recently, the Art Gallery of Ontario with a 500-person cover of the late David Bowie's beloved "Space Oddity". Prior to the latter, we met up for oysters and a few pints of beer to talk about how they went from a tiny gathering at a friend's birthday to the epic, internet-breaking phenomenon they are today.
Describe the path that brought you to what you're doing now.
Daveed: We got started with humble beginnings. We both partook in a choir-like performance for a mutual friend's birthday, and we rehearsed at Nobu's house. It was kind of a one-off thing and it was really fun and very simple and that's where the seed was planted in our heads. It took a couple years after that performance, where we would see each other around and we didn't really know each other that well, but we had done this thing together. Whenever I would see Nobu, we would say things like, "Let's do that choir thing again!" and then it wouldn't happen and we wouldn't see each other for six months. At one point in 2010-2011, I was in the depths of winter depression, and Nobu came into the restaurant I've managed for a long time, and I said it to him again he said, "Okay, let's do it. I'll put a post up on Facebook and see who would come out and sing." From there, he put a post up and the response was really strong.
Nobu: And by strong, he means that 30 people wanted to come out and sing, which at the time was a lot.
D: It took a couple of months for it to finally happen, but we did it in February of 2011, in the middle of a snowstorm. We thought no one would come out, but about 20 people came out in the biggest snowstorm of the year to sing a few songs with us at a real estate office and we were just impressed by the idea that we got 20 people to come out and sing.
N: We were very nervous. It's one thing to get up in a room full of your closest friends because there's usually no power dynamic. You're just hanging out with your friends. But suddenly we're the leaders of this thing and we're trying to get people to do this thing, and we don't even really know what it is that we're trying to get them to do. When it comes down to it there was no shape to it.
D: There was no end game. Neither of us had talked about the idea that we would have this trajectory. I just thought it would be fun to maybe do it a couple of times and see what came out of it. It was just a way to meet people. It was winter, I was feeling lonely and depressed, and I figured, being in a room with 20 people singing was better than being in a room alone.
N: I find it interesting because we come at it from different perspectives. Daveed is a very talented musician who really didn't share his music very much. He was writing in isolation and performing in small venues with a lot of support from other musicians but keeping it more private and was less inclined to share it with the world. In many ways, I don't think a lot of people knew how talented he was or is. I think they saw him as the manager for Aunties & Uncles, which he's been for a long time. And for me, I've always been very involved with every community I've been a part of. I lived in Halifax for a number of years and it seems like everyone in Halifax is in a band, so I started making music with a couple of friends when I lived out there. I'd never been in a choir before, so this idea of joining a choir was very foreign to me. It was almost by accident that he happened to get enlisted by a mutual friend of ours to play guitar for this birthday party that he mentioned. And even though none of us knew how to arrange the song, it was very evident from the beginning that Daveed could respond to that, almost like a positive knee-jerk reaction. After that first performance, we weren't really thinking about it beyond that moment, but there was a spark. I remember the other people that were a part of the performance were asking us about when it was going to happen again. And once we got going, it was kind of a snowball effect. We would suggest we do it again the following month, but people wanted to do it again the following day. And we kept having to move venues. One time it was at my house but then it grew out of that so we moved it to an art gallery, and then we held it at Double Double Land. It just grew so quickly, because (and this is what we didn't realize at the beginning) people wanted something that would allow them to be creative, even if they were already super creative. Sometimes being the person who calls all the shots can be a little overwhelming. So people wanted a way to flex their creative muscles...
D: They wanted to be passively creative.
N: Exactly. Let somebody else steer the ship for a bit. We were motivated by the idea and up for the challenge of meeting this demand. There was a void, and I don't say void in a desperate way, but it seemed there was something lacking in people's lives and once choir got started it moved quickly, and we had to move fast to keep up with it. At times it was very overwhelming. I've had a lot of extraordinary moments in my life, but the kind of response we've gotten from this particular project has brought up something that's never happened to me before. It's really powerful and humbling and insane, in the most beautiful and encouraging way.