On a Tuesday evening in December, a lineup snakes through Clinton’s Tavern in Toronto’s Koreatown neighbourhood. There’s no party in the club-like backroom. Instead, everyone’s waiting to sing Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself in three-part harmony with Choir! Choir! Choir! –the city’s now-famous drop-in, no-experience-necessary choir.
Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman founded Choir! Choir! Choir! in February 2011 at a small real estate office on Queen Street West. The group has grown steadily, but had a huge 2016, taking the inclusive choir to world-renowned stages including Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall. Throughout their journey, these Jewish choirmasters have been committed to charity, or as one member says, tikkun olam.
“Part of our unofficial mandate from the start was to stand behind causes we believe in,” Adilman says.
In December, Goldman and Adilman started Charity! Charity! Charity!, a fundraising campaign with the goal of giving $1,000 – or more – to 25 organizations.
Goldman knows he and Adilman can leverage their massive community to do good. “We’re always trying to think of ways to sort of engage them and do things that kind of give back in some way,” he says. To boost their campaign, Goldman and Adilman contributed $12,500, and they’ve raised more than $30,000 to date.
To really kick off the campaign, Goldman and Adilman held an event at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on Dec. 11. They led more than 500 singers in a rendition of Supertramp’s Give a Little Bit. Online tickets, $20 each, sold out in minutes. “We broke the [AGO] site again,” says Goldman, referring to the start of their whirlwind 2016.
RAfter David Bowie died last January, they gathered a group of about 550 individuals together at the AGO to sing Space Oddity. The video of their performance went viral, and it led them to join Bowie tributes at Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall. Later, they participated in a Prince tribute concert at Massey Hall in Toronto and a much-covered Leonard Cohen sing-along at Christie Pits Park in November.
“It was really surreal and amazing. Like everything that happened with Choir, it feels somewhat natural because we’ve been doing this for six years. The growth has been constant – you know there’s ebbs and flows, but this year’s been pretty insane,” Goldman says. While they seem to hold events when legendary musicians pass, he knows they’re more than just Toronto’s death choir.
They’ve already held Choir sessions in New York and plan to visit other cities, including San Francisco in 2017. Choir has become a full-time gig for Goldman and Adilman; they do speaking engagements in Toronto and beyond and are managed under the local Arts & Crafts label.
And while choir members are all part of their success, many of them return week after week for the community – and the chance to sing.
Orna Shazar Gang attended her first choir session the day after she finished chemotherapy. “I love it,” she says. “I love the fact it brings together people from different ages, different backgrounds.”
Shazar Gang, not only attends weekly, she also volunteered to help out when Choir decided to sponsor two families of Syrian refugees.
Choir raised $10,000 by singing John Lennon’s Imagine at Lee’s Palace last year, and now, Shazar Gang’s part of a group of 12 women who assist the families on a daily basis.
“Being Jewish,” she says, “and especially being Israeli, and knowing what kind of relationship Israel has with those countries, it’s a pleasure to be able to connect and help and respect.”
As Choir continues to grow and expand beyond Toronto, Goldman and Adilman keep the weekly Clinton’s sessions in place, giving Torontonians of all ages a chance to let loose and belt it out.
“It was just a very simple idea to get friends together to sing,” says Adilman of the early days. “And it still is – just, a lot more people come out.”