When Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman first launched Choir! Choir! Choir!, a weekly drop-in singing group, back in 2011, it was on the same night as one of those infamous Toronto winter storms that usually keeps people indoors, huddled under their duvet.
"It was the worst storm of the year and we thought no one would show up. But 20 to 25 people came and we had a great time. It went from there. There was no plan," explains Goldman. From there, the laidback choir, if you can even call it a choir, grew organically. In the dead of winter, Torontonians were looking for something fun to do that didn't involve drinking. Today, the group's videos regularly amass hundreds of thousands of views online, and they've sung in such iconic venues as Toronto's Massey Hall and New York City's Radio City Music Hall.
It's the choir's decidedly un-choral- like tendencies that Goldman believes is the crux of its appeal. Its twice-weekly drop-ins at Toronto's Clinton Tavern require no preparation or even musical ability. Participants are given a lyric sheet at the door, taught the vocal arrangement and then perform. It's really that simple. There's no weeks-long rehearsals, no stuffy church hymns, and no expectations.
"The way we do what we do is different than other choirs," said Goldman. "I don't really consider ourselves a choir. I never had any aspirations to be a part of the choral community. None of us really wanted that. We just wanted to do a night of singing, and it ended up becoming part of the name."
Goldman and Adilman (or "DaBu," as they collectively refer to themselves) realized the impact the group was having pretty early on: Less than a year after starting Choir! Choir! Choir!, Goldman said they received a number of Christmas cards from participants detailing what the group meant to them.
"For some people it's very cathartic. For some it's about celebrating music. For some people they do it because they feel lonely. For some people it's because they like hanging out with certain people and this is what they do," he explained. "It's different for everybody and I think that's part of what's fun. We let people take the night wherever they want to. The song is just the invite. What happens after that is what the people make it."
The choir also gives back to its community in other ways: In 2016, the Choir! Choir! Choir! Foundation was created in association with the Toronto Foundation to formalize the group's charitable efforts. They have since raised thousands of dollars for a host of organizations through its annual "25 Days of Charity! Charity! Charity!" campaign.
The choir has even brushed shoulders with some of the biggest names in the music industry, singing alongside the Talking Heads' David Byrne for a Prince tribute concert, surprising Lionel Ritchie with a rousing rendition of "Hello" at a taping of American Idol, and even belting out the '80s anthem (and now internet meme) "Never Gonna Give You Up" with Rick Astley.
"We've gotten to perform with some great musicians and we have more coming up that we're planning on doing, so it's just a fun way to celebrate their songs. They always get a kick out of the audience singing their songs and getting to connect with their fans," recalled Goldman. "It's really about people celebrating music."
Choir! Choir! Choir! is set to perform as part of the Whistler Presents Outdoor Concert Series on Saturday, Aug. 25. The free concert gets underway at 7:30 p.m. at Whistler Olympic Plaza and will feature a selection of classic Canadian songs.
"We'll do everything from Neil Young and Joni Mitchell to Leonard Cohen and some other Canadian songs," Goldman said. "We might get people onstage. We'll dance a bit, we'll sing a bit. It's going to be a perfect, fun night out that's not too involved and people don't have to feel intimidated."
For more information, visit choirchoirchoir.com.