Low Bar Chorale hits high notes
Memories of singing organized melodies and harmonies together with a group of people harken back to elementary school for many people.
For a lot of working adults, there's not enough time in the day to carve out a commitment for something like a community choir. But on a sunny day in late June an estimated 2,000 people showed up at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland for a group sing-along to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Prince's Purple Rain.
People danced and belted out their lungs in the crowded square, decked out in purple garb, as musicians including China Forbes of Pink Martini, mariachi singer Edna Vasquez, and others performed songs from the hit album.
The event was organized by Portland's Low Bar Chorale — a group dedicated to no-commitment, drop-in live music sing-alongs at various locations, including Revolution Hall.
"For people who grew up where they weren't told they could sing or they sang loudly so they were told to be quiet, it's really empowering and emotional to realize they can sing," said Kate Sokoloff, the producer, and one of the founders of Low Bar Chorale.
"The places most people go to sing, if they even think they can sing, are going to be church, school or choir of some sort, which requires rehearsals and commitments," she said.
"And you're usually not singing the music you want to be singing," said Ben Landsverk, the group's co-founder and music director.
Sokoloff grew up with a minister father and was entrenched in singing folk songs with her family. She sang in school choirs and the occasional musical when she was younger, but had no place to continue until Low Bar Chorale was created.
Landsverk also became acquainted with music as a kid, but continued with it throughout his life. He went to Yale University and directed the Whiffenpoofs, one of the oldest and most well-known collegiate a cappella groups. Currently, he produces music in the band Wonderly, scoring for films and creating songs for podcasts like The New York Times' The Daily.
For Low Bar Chorale, Sokoloff and Landsverk bring together an array of talented musicians to perform live for audiences and coordinate large-scale group sing-alongs of songs from the mid-1970s to today.
The type of music played varies a lot — from Aretha Franklin to Nirvana and the Bee Gees to Daft Punk.
As far as choosing songs goes, there's not too much of a technical process between Sokoloff and Landsverk, but the tunes do have to transfer well to a sing-along.
"I will have heard a song in the car, or Ben will have heard something, and we both, Ben especially, have the killer ear for what will work with a group," Sokoloff said.
"Songs have to have a pretty strong melody," Landsverk said. "If they have very emotionally available lyrics — that really, really works and intuitive harmonies, too; that makes my job so much easier."
They'll have another show coming up Thursday, Aug. 15, at Kruger Farm on Sauvie Island, just north of Portland.
Oregon Public Broadcasting is a news partner of Pamplin Media Group. For the full story on Low Bar Chorale, see www.opb.org/news/article/portlands-low-bar-chorale-singing-music-community.
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