Choirs are a living, breathing testament to the power of music; after all, who among us hasn’t witnessed the shifting of molecules in a room (and in our own bodies) during a particularly moving and uplifting choral concert? But, have you ever stopped to think about the many different types of choirs and choruses that exist? We all love our meat-and-potatoes choirs, but how about showing some love to the outliers? Here are three of my favorites; I hope they become yours, too.
1. The Crossing
Hailing from Philadelphia and led by Donald Nally, The Crossing is, for lack of a better phrase (but no disrespect intended), not your grandmother’s choir. They’re not a household name, but they did win the Grammy for Best Choral Performance in both 2018 and 2019. This professional chamber group consists of approximately 40 members, is a testament to social consciousness, and clearly marches to the beat of its own drum. They unapologetically tackle serious subjects: in “Animals” by Ted Hearne, the phrase Donald Trump made popular (“These are not people, these are animals”) is interspersed with mimicked wild animal/bird calls and cries: https://tinyurl.com/yhq2feoj
And, in “Zealot Canticles,” by Lansing McCloskey, the writings of Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate of Nigeria, are set to music in a simultaneously soothing and chilling tribute to peace and tolerance. Here’s the first section: https://tinyurl.com/yfr5vu36
2. Young@Heart Chorus
Again, no disrespect intended, but this group could be your grandmother’s choir. Imagine a group whose members’ ages span roughly from 73-100…but if ever there was a situation in which age was truly only a number, this would be it.
In 1982, Bob Climan, a resident of Northampton, Massachusetts started a choir with the residents of a senior housing complex nearby. They’ve gained quite a bit of notoriety over the last 38 years, and while members have (obviously) come and gone, the song(s) live on. Their concerts are magical, with titles such as “Alive and Well” and “This Is Getting Old” — might as well laugh about our mortality, right? Please watch the documentary Young@Heart; you’ll get an extremely clear picture of the joy–and the triumph of the human spirit–they bring to every show.
So, I bet you’re thinking this chorus performs renditions of all the old numbers from days gone by? Au contraire: these elders rock harder than many millennial whippersnappers. Here, for your consideration, is their version of a little ditty by the Rolling Stones, who, by the way, are old enough to join the group: https://tinyurl.com/ygn7eyny
And check out their take on a Coldplay classic (I’m not crying watching this, you are): https://tinyurl.com/ydgq8uv3
Okay, and one more: https://tinyurl.com/yk66fjh2
3. PS22 Chorus
Put 60-70 fifth graders into an auditorium to sing and one can imagine the serious hijinks that would ensue…that is, unless said fifth graders were selected by Gregg Breinberg (affectionately known as “Mr. B”) to sing with the PS22 Chorus, a Webby-Award winning group from Staten Island, New York. Mr. B started the chorus in 2000, and they’ve garnered an incredible amount of notoriety over the past two decades. They’ve sung with such luminaries as Carrie Underwood, Katy Perry, and Tori Amos, and most recently, they backed up Andy Grammer on his rendition of “Don’t Give Up on Me” for a segment of CNN Heroes: https://tinyurl.com/yfvbxhet
The little humans in this chorus are not only beautiful to listen to, they’re beautiful inside and out. Listen to (and watch) their loving-kindness on Martina McBride’s “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”, dedicated to another PS22 teacher, Adriana Lopez, who was fighting cancer at the time—but is now five years cancer-free: https://tinyurl.com/yef7s5oo
There’s a film about them titled Once in A Lullaby: The PS22 Chorus Documentary; it would do you a world of good to see it, and to see them shine. (They performed “Over the Rainbow” at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, hence the title…)
And, in the name of synchronicity, here are Young@Heart and PS22 together; don’t you love when that happens? https://tinyurl.com/yh79ajwn
In closing, a toast: To all the conductors, directors, members and accompanists who make music, we thank you for making life even more worth living…L’chaim!
Jaime Babbitt coached voice and performance for Disney. She then wrote Working with Your Voice: The Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer (Alfred Publishing). As a session singer, she “jingled” for Coke, Pillsbury, Chevy, Folgers and more. She’s sung thousands of live gigs and toured nationally and internationally with Leon Russell, Sam Moore, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and others. Jaime sang background vocals for George Strait, Courtney Love, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus and Johnny Mathis. Jaime currently coaches voice and performance in New York and remotely. For more info, please visit workingwithyourvoice.com.