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The Big Sing: How a drop-in choir is bringing big smiles to Halifax (8 photos)

The Big Sing began in early 2017 as a way for Haligonians to kick back near the middle of a work week and sing along with others looking to do the same

If you happen to walk by Gus’ Pub on a Tuesday evening, you might hear the sound of harmonizing voices wafting through the walls of the building and into the night air.

Those voices aren’t from a trained choir: they’re from a group of people, of all ages and from all walks of life, coming together in song.

The Big Sing began in early 2017 as a way for Haligonians to kick back near the middle of a work week and sing along with others looking to do the same.

“One of the best elements of the whole experience is you can come in the door, there’s 150 of us with 150 different experiences of that day, 150 different backgrounds, different interests, different knowledge, and we can share in something beautiful,” said Jack Bennet, who composes the music and helps the choir figure out the harmonies for the songs they cover.

“By the end of it, we’re all struck in this state of being mesmerized by the beauty of this creative, collective project.”

The Big Sing is largely modeled after Choir! Choir! Choir!, a similar drop-in choir group in Toronto, and what separates these types of choirs from others is its accessibility to those who might not be well-versed in music.

Instead of splitting people into sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses, The Big Sing attendees are grouped into “highs,” “middles,” and “lows.” There’s no mandatory attendance every week, and complicated sheet music is traded in for the lyrics of whatever song they happen to be singing that night.

Attendance tends to change from night to night, but they usually expect roughly 100 people to walk through the doors.

Bennet, 24, said the group has had a lot of momentum over the better part of the last year: in the spring, they performed with Feist, and they’ve also delivered performances at the Halifax Pride festival and Neptune Theatre.

“Opportunities keep knocking our way, and it’s just so exciting to do beautiful events,” he said.

The group covers a wide variety of songs, from pop, to rock, to folk, to country, and the song choices are often informed by whatever’s going on in the world. When Gord Downie, Dolores O’Riordan, and Aretha Franklin died, they covered songs by those respective artists and their bands. 

And when U.S. President Donald Trump was inaugurated, they sang “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House.

“We try to pick music that’s timely, that’s fitting to what’s going on in society,” said Bennet. “And a lot of the songs come from suggestions of the community.”

The Big Sing’s Facebook page has nearly 3,000 likes, and new people show up at almost every event.

Tuesday was a special night for those attending The Big Sing, as the group got to perform a new song with Halifax-based singer-songwriter Stewart Legere.

“Our Love" is currently unreleased but will be on the soundtrack of “Splinters,” a Thom Fitzgerald-directed movie that opened the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival last month.

Referring to the large crowd of people that showed up to sing his song — one that they hadn’t heard before — Legere said: “It’s so special, it’s so beautiful, and kind of surreal.”

It wasn’t Tammy Crawford’s first night attending The Big Sing. Crawford, 38, has been showing up just about every week since The Big Sing began in January 2017, and she said she loves the camaraderie between the singers.

“The first time that I came, I felt comfortable,” she said. 

“I came by myself, I was totally scared, but as soon as the group got together, and as soon as Jack got on the stage and started talking, I knew I was in the right place.”

She said her favourite songs are the ones she doesn’t know, since she wants to experiment and learn more about singing harmonies. 

“If I don’t know the song, it’s a better learning opportunity,” she said. 

George Woodhouse, 28, provides musical accompaniment and comic relief at every event, and said The Big Sing has helped him appreciate the power and importance of community.

“You show up and you feel like you’re part of something where everyone’s welcome, and you’re free to make mistakes doing something that is typically reserved for people who do it really well,” said Woodhouse, who plays guitar. 

“But it ends up sounding really great. Community is what brings me back each week.”

He said The Big Sing is floating the idea of holding events on the Dartmouth side of the harbour on the weeks when they’re not at Gus’ Pub.

“We’re looking for a good fit for a venue in Dartmouth that can open up its doors for a bunch of singers to grab a drink and sing for a couple of hours on a slow night,” he said.

The next event will take place on November 6 at Gus’ Pub.




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