Coco Love Alcorn, Highlands United Church, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, 7 p.m. A fundraising event for the Music Therapy Program at Mountainside Secondary School. For more information visit cocolovealcorn.com.
The kids huddle in cliques along the perimeter of the school gym; orbiting the wide open dance floor but not setting a sneaker on it.
They speak in shouted conversations – not to be heard but to drown out the music.
Then a dancer takes the floor, and another, and then – finally convinced the centre of the school gym isn’t a sinkhole that will swallow them whole – the wallflowers detach. Now it’s a dance.
“All of a sudden it’s this safe space and then everyone feels like dancing,” explains singer Coco Love Alcorn.
The same thing happens at concerts, the jazz crooner explains, where she and her band essentially become “the first three on the dance floor.”
Alcorn isn’t the type to start one of those over-the-head rhythmic claps or hold out the microphone and exhort the audience to do what they paid to see.
“I don’t want to be that ringleader up there going like, ‘Come on guys, let’s do it!’” she laughs. “I just love it when a sing-along just happens in a natural way that wasn’t pushed. The music itself just compels (the audience) to want to sing along.”
Her band plays. She sings. And then, at a certain point those strangers turn into a choir.
“I guess that’s my job,” Alcorn says. “That’s the first time I’ve thought about it like that,” she reflects. “I like it.”
Alcorn is set to ply her trade at Highlands United Church April 10 for a concert that – depending on your worldview – is the result of coincidence or fate.
Alcorn had finished a leg of her tour promoting her newest album Wonderland when she opted to make a stop on Bowen Island where her aunt sings in a choir. Unbeknownst to Alcorn, the choir also included Mountainside Secondary principal Jeremy Church.
The two struck up a conversation and Church persuaded Alcorn to do something with the Mountainside students in 2018.
Alcorn hadn’t heard of Mountainside but agreed to leave a date open during her brief spring tour on the West Coast. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that she discovered that, before its $3-million transformation, Mountainside had been Balmoral, the school she’d attended.
From her home in Owen Sound, Ont., Alcorn watches snowflakes defy springtime while she prepares to cross 4,350 kilometres of Canada and step through the years to her school days.
“It’s going to be quite a blast from the past to step into those halls again,” she says.
Preparing for Alcorn’s arrival is music therapist Tatyana Dobrowolski.
Dobrowolski is working out harmonies with students in small groups and getting them ready for the end of the week when they’ll get into one room and hear each other for the first time.
Tickets for Tuesday’s concert are $20 for adults and $10 for students up to 19. It’s a fundraiser intended to help the school update some equipment and maybe get an acoustic guitar with a built-in pickup.
“We keep buying external pickups and they get wrecked,” Dobrowolski says.
Having new gear can help motivate the students, Dobrowolski says.
“The sound is better and it feels better in your hand. When you have good equipment you’re more motivated to keep practising. When your equipment stinks you just don’t sound great no matter how hard you try.”
For her part, Dobrowolski says she’s always grinning ear to ear when she sees her students “baring their soul on stage.”
The show is set to feature Alcorn, school staff, and students, including a few songwriters who are set to perform their original compositions.
“That is particularly pride-inducing for me,” Dobrowolski says.
Dobrowolski has worked toward those chest-swelling moments since she was a restless teenager looking for a way out of Dawson Creek. (It’s a lovely town, she clarifies, but she needed escape).
“I was just applying for . . . whatever I could find – anything to get out – and then in the drop-down menu in the Capilano (University) website was music therapy.”
As a singer/songwriter who loved working with children with special needs, she was immediately intrigued. The children can be resilient, a quality she finds reflected in Alcorn’s music, particularly “Unbreakable,” which is about finding strength within yourself.
“The songs were built for layered voice,” Alcorn says, noting the tracks were recorded on a five-tracking looping device. “I’ve always loved harmony singing, voices coming together, what the human voice can do, that amazing feeling of togetherness that comes from singing with people.”
Alcorn isn’t sure what Tuesday’s concert will sound like, but she says she’s ready to: “Mash what they’ve been doing with what we do.”
In some ways, it’s the essence of her calling.
“Connecting with people and with deeper parts of myself is the main reason that I love doing music,” Alcorn says.