photographs by Soleil Konkel
If you think singing’s not your thing, Lauren Bromley Hodge begs to differ. “Left alone, anyone can,” she claims. What about when you catch yourself singing along to a song on the radio, she’ll say, or humming an earworm in the shower?
Bromley Hodge believes wholeheartedly in the power of music. It’s what led her to found the Community Chorus Project, a nonprofit that provides music programming for middle- and high-school-aged children. One of its programs is a week-long summer camp for high schoolers, where teenagers learn choral arrangements of popular music and record videos of their performances.
A few years ago, summer campers recorded Everybody Hurts by R.E.M.. The band got wind and raved, posting the video to its Facebook page. Meanwhile, parents had been asking Bromley Hodge for a program they could participate in, too. So, inspired by a similar model in Canada, Bromley Hodge hosted an informal “pop-up chorus” meeting where all ages were welcome to attend and sing a non-traditional choral arrangement similar to the high schoolers’ videos. “It connected with people straight away,” Bromley Hodge says. Now, almost two years later, the PopUp Chorus’ monthly meetings at Motorco in Durham routinely attract as many as 250 people.
The premise is simple: show up, spend around 45 minutes learning two or three selected songs for the evening, and sing. Singers – and “the feeling in the room is that everybody is a singer” – are divided into a few sections for harmony. Each section is led by one of Bromley Hodge’s team, a troupe of volunteer voice coaches. “For so many people who say they can’t sing, we end up sounding quite nice,” Bromley Hodge says. Past selections range from Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Madonna’s Like A Prayer. Often, bands take note and offer kudos and social media support. “It flips the tables of who gets to be the musician and who gets to be the consumer. I think that’s a good thing to do.”
It’s also fun, regardless of who you are. There are always regulars and always newcomers, professional performers and shy hummers. “We have nights where we know we have five generations of people,” from toddlers with their parents to retirees well past 70. “You are just as likely to be standing next to a biker as you are a geography professor at Duke. There aren’t many artistic endeavors where you get such a cross-section of participants.”
The Chorus’ next meeting is December 17. If you can’t sneak out amidst the holiday hustle-bustle, mark your calendar for January 8. While PopUp has historically met on Thursday evenings, next year it will switch to Fridays. The fact that Motorco, a favorite on the Durham concert venue circuit, voluntarily offers a lucrative weekend night every month says a lot about the PopUp bond. “The power of coming together in a chorus is that it builds community. That truly is the power of music: it dissolves all the barriers around gender and age and class and economics. It’s such a fun and mad thing to do … Just come sing your heart out.”
PopUp Chorus meets at Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham. Doors open at 6 p.m., singing begins at 7 p.m., and admission is $8. Visit popupchorus.org for more information and to find videos of all past performances.