THE youngsters file in to St. Andrew's United Church with excited chatter and plop down on the chancel steps.
There are tween girls in skinny jeans and sparkly T-shirts, a handful of teenage girls and two or three middle-grade boys. All are here for the weekly rehearsal of A Capella Chorus, a choir for children ages eight to 12 and youth 13-18.
There's giggling and a request for a bathroom break and then it's time to get down to business.
"Let's stand and sing," says choral director Jennifer Stephanson, who encourages the choristers to raise their voices in song. "Make sure the guy at the back window can hear you," she says, gesturing to the stained glass likeness of St. Andrew.
Stephanson runs through a vocal warm-up and issues an age-appropriate warning: "This is just a reminder you should never sing with gum in your mouth."
The choir rehearses the Yoruba chant "Yemaya Asesu" and the South African anti-apartheid folk song "Senzeni Na?" in three-part harmony and then breaks to introduce new members. Stephanson asks each youngster for their favourite song.
"Titanium." "Gangnam Style." "Scream and Shout." The Top 40 hits tumble out.
"Call Me Maybe," offers up one girl.
"I love that song - so catchy," Stephanson responds.
"Firework." "Perfect by Pink."
Among the chart-toppers, there are some surprising choices.
"Imagine by John Lennon," says a teenage girl with long wavy hair.
"Big Girls Don't Cry," says a fourth-grader in a striped sweater.
"Stand By Me," says a Grade 8 boy, and the youngsters erupt into a quick chorus of "da-doo-doo, duh-da-doo-doo"and finger snapping.
A Capella Chorus is a community choir. It performs two public fundraising concerts per year for selected charities. Since Stephanson formed the choir in the fall of 2009, A Capella has supported the Brian Wood Memorial, Education Without Borders, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Obadiah's Brother's Keeper Mission and Orphanage, Save Your Skin Foundation and the SPCA. The next fundraising concert will have an environmental theme and support an environmental organization of the kids' choosing.
Why do parents enrol their kids in choir? "Every parent wants their children to have some sort of musical background," says Stephanson, who also directs St. Andrew's three church choirs and Carousel Chorus, a community choir for adults. "There are a number of reasons to join: to expose your child to a large group situation or to have them come out of their shell; to have musical training and to have that access to musical training without having to invest in an instrument."
The kids have their own reasons for being there. "There are some that really want to be pop stars when they grow up and they are full of energy and nothing will stop them. They are so ready at any opportunity to take on a solo," says Stephanson.
These youngsters are more likely to watch YTV's The Next Star than the prime-time hit Glee, which Stephanson says gives young singers a skewed view of vocal groups. "Things don't usually come together so quickly with so much ease. And the amount of auto-tuner they use is unbelievable," she says.
The A Capella Chorus is strictly unplugged. "With choir, we don't have all of those high-end gadgets. It's live. Things can go wrong. You're gonna get the best that we can do, not this prepackaged incredibly gleamingly sheeny wonderfully produced sound."
And there's a good lesson in that for the kids, Stephanson says: "To be real, to be yourself and to do your best."
. . .
Marcus Mosely has been singing all his life. "I was probably 14 before I realized the rest of the world wasn't privy to the soundtrack going on in my head," says the 60-year-old director of Mount Seymour United Church's gospel choir. "I was always singing - church choirs, school talent shows. If there was a singing contest at the local pizza parlour, I would sing in those as well."
He says, "There's something powerful about using the voice. It's a way of sharing what you're feeling."
The longtime North Vancouver resident was born in Texas before the American civil rights movement. Growing up in the Deep South, he recalls, "My mom always had a song on her lips. Whether we were out in the cotton fields or she was cleaning people's homes, her singing was a way of staying connected to her spiritual centre. Living in the South at that time, there's always an assault on your spirit. (Singing) was a strength for her."
Mosely, who was raised in the Pentecostal church, sang for many years with the Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir, which he co-founded, and now leads his own choir, the Marcus Mosely Chorale. He also sings with the gospel trio The Sojourners.
It was Mount Seymour's musical director Dominique Hogan, a former member of Good Noise, who invited Mosely to start the church's gospel choir. With a core group of 15 members, the choir rehearses one Thursday a month and sings at worship on the following Sunday.
Mosely turns no one away, no matter their differences in faith or vocal ability. "I make it very clear that everyone is welcome," he says. "They don't have to be great singers or soloists - just have a desire to sing. Just come and make a joyful noise. It's a very liberating thing to stand in front of a congregation of people and open your mouth and sing together. And see the effect. You can see joy on their faces. They feel like they've connected, had a positive effect, and it's all good."
Mosely is encouraged by what he sees as a renewed interest in community choirs.
"There was a time back in the last 50 years where families would sing at home around the piano. That kinda got lost thanks to things like the little computer games. People got stuck in their own little world. Here, it's great that people are coming together to sing and to share."
. . .
The first Wednesday of the month, Peter Vanderhorst pounds the keys of the impressive Mason & Hamlin grand piano at West Vancouver's Silk Purse Arts Centre and belts out a string of show tunes and American standards.
"Mr. Piano" leads a two-hour sing-along for his late-morning audience of mostly seniors. Like a seasoned piano man, he moves effortlessly from one songbook classic to another, playing to a full house that includes several colourfully dressed members of the Red Hat Society, an international women's social organization that advocates fun after 50.
"Amazing Grace" transitions into "Home on the Range," followed by the show tunes "Do-Re-Mi" and "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music.
He launches into the traditional pop standard "Side by Side" to a murmur of "I love this song" and follows with two classics that fit the sing-along's Valentine's theme: "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter."
A spirited piano solo in the 1960s hit "Spanish Eyes" draws smiles from the room. "I've Been Working on the Railroad" catches a curious glance from a middle-age couple strolling the Seawalk outside the gallery's large picture windows. Vanderhorst ends his song set with a flourish and there's spontaneous applause. "I'm just a show-off, you know," he jests, and his captive audience eats it up.
"Peter's a wonderful piano player," says Silk Purse regular Marny Pierson, who introduces herself during coffee break. The 71-year-old sings in four choirs. "I love singing and it's something I'm good at. I'm useless at ice hockey," she quips.
Pierson says the benefits of singing are numerous. "I taught biology at high-school and I happen to know that singing releases endorphins. It makes you breathe. And then there's the camaraderie that builds up among singers."
"I come for the view," says Bev Visintin, a red-hatted senior seated in the second row who later shares that it's more than the spectacular waterfront setting that brings her here from her North Burnaby home each month. She too comes for the camaraderie.
Before his retirement from teaching in 2001, Vanderhorst built a choral program at West Vancouver secondary that saw its Treble Choir win choral competitions across North America and perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Several former students continued to sing together after graduation, with Vanderhorst's Celesta Women's Choir.
"The reason why some of these girls stayed with me in the choir program for up to six years was that the benefits were immense," he says. "I think for them to leave the challenges of academic life behind and get involved in a situation that allowed them to express their feelings, their emotions through music was to me a very obvious (benefit).
"For them, at that particular age, getting together as a choir had a lot of social benefits as well. I think for all of us, it almost had a tendency to become an emotional experience. The music became so powerful, so emotional that we ended up with tears in our eyes."
That emotional experience extends to the Wednesday sing-alongs, regardless of whether those in attendance can sing in harmony or even carry a tune.
"You know, the quality of the singing is not that high," says Vanderhorst. "It makes no difference, at all. We're not trying to establish a choir. People just come because they enjoying singing."
He says, "They've been looking forward to this. Their faces are bright and they're happy. Once we start, you can tell that they're having so much fun. There have been a number of times when people have come up to me after the sing-along and grabbed my arm or even hugged me and said, "'You have no idea how good you have made us feel.'"