What: An Evening With Choir! Choir! Choir!
Where: Capital Ballroom, 858 Yates St.
When: Sunday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $24.50 from eventbrite.ca ($37.93 with fees)
The practice of teaching strangers to sing popular songs is not exclusive to Nobu Adilman and Daveed Goldman, the creative directors of Toronto’s Choir! Choir! Choir!
But they have been more successful than most, having taught tens of thousands to sing at their weekly drop-in event, reaching more than 40 million viewers on YouTube in the process.
The two friends have staged more than 1,000 singalongs since 2011, through several national tours, pop-up concerts on American Idol and weekly performances at Clinton’s Tavern in Toronto.
They have sung in churches, warehouses, nightclubs — even on a beach. “We’ll do whatever we have to do to make the show the best it can be,” Goldman said. “Our show is very casual, and pretty unscripted.”
Stars have caught on to what Choir! Choir! Choir! offers. David Byrne of the Talking Heads, Lionel Richie, Rick Astley, the Barenaked Ladies, Tegan and Sara, Rufus Wainwright, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, The Flaming Lips, Stewart Copeland of The Police and members of the Tragically Hip have all joined Choir! Choir! Choir! in concert, leading the choir through hits they authored.
On Oct. 13, Adilman and Goldman performed at the U.S./Mexico border with 1,000 singers of varying nationalities. The song was The Beatles’ With a Little Help from My Friends, pulled off with the help of ArtPower, a performing arts organization at the University of California-San Diego. Goldman was stationed with a few hundred singers on the San Diego side of the border, while Adilman was in Tijuana.
The resulting video — sung in English and Spanish — comes across like a powerful political statement, without anyone involved ever proclaiming it to be one.
“There was only so much we could say politically,” Goldman said. “But any time you gather people around an idea, someone could see it as a political act. This place was so politically charged, we knew what were getting into and we were a bit worried. But we were going there to create a moment, and if people are willing to share that moment from across the border, and take three minutes to sing together, and it changes their perception of what’s going on [politically] even one iota, then it’s worth doing.”
The tour that brings Choir! Choir! Choir! to the Capital Ballrooom on Sunday is focused, like the majority of their events, on a single song — in this case, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’.
Singers will be separated into high, low, and mid-range, and taught the lyrics. Goldman will provide the framework on acoustic guitar, and after an hour or so, the crowd should be in unison.
For their tour, Adilman and Goldman have been adding snippets of other 1980s classics (by Whitney Houston, Tears for Fears and Peter Gabriel) to the set, but the focus will be on one of the most enduring songs in rock memory.
“It’s this love-it-or-hate-it, epic anthem,” Goldman said of Don’t Stop Believin’. “You can think whatever you want of it — this song is probably the most resilient song of the last 50 years. It just keeps coming back. Everyone knows it, from five to 65. It’s so fun.”
The two have a wide range of songs at their disposal, because few are off limits, Goldman said. They have led singers through versions of songs by Lizzo, Elvis Presley, ABBA, Katy Perry and Nirvana. Goldman has yet to find something aside from deep soul cuts — which are difficult because there is no percussion in Choir! Choir! Choir! — that can’t be worked into shape for a choir performance.
“There are songs that are off-limits, because they are too difficult to sing, or rhythmically they are hard to do. Soul music is pretty tough. Every time Aretha Franklin sings a song, it’s a bit different.
“Melodies are malleable in those songs. … The way the artist sings it is based on their mood at the time. Those songs are hard, because no one knows exactly how it goes.”
They have sung tributes on short notice following the deaths of Glen Campbell, Chris Cornell, Gord Downie and Ric Ocasek. They choose songs for their weekly drop-in at Clinton’s Tavern in Toronto three or four days before they are on stage each week, which allows them to react to what’s going on in the pop culture world on a whim.
“We like when people leave and it wasn’t what they were expecting,” Goldman said. “It will be beautiful, but it’s not going to be beautiful in the way that you might think it is going to be. People watch our Hallelujah video with Rufus Wainwright and they want that moment, but that’s one event. Every one is different. We like to surprise people.
“People come to Choir! Choir! Choir! because they want to feel things. You are feeling the connection with the people around you, and when we really lock in, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It’s hard not to smile, because of this beautiful moment.”