Uniting in song

Photo: Rebecca Clarke

Vanessa Lindsay-Botten believes that singing is everyone’s birthright. And if you’d like the chance to take your singing out of the shower, she’s got a safe and supportive place to do that.

She heads the Halifax-based You Gotta Sing community choir. Unlike many choirs, this one doesn’t have auditions: it accepts anyone who wants to sing.

Non-auditioned community choirs aren’t new, but Lindsay-Botten believes popularity is increasing. “I think there is a very strong movement happening now,” she says. “There are more and more community choirs such as this coming to being in North America to counteract [the idea] that singing is only for the professionals. It really is for everybody. You don’t have to be a performer, necessarily, just to have the joy of singing in your life.”

But can you really bring together such a group, some with little or no singing experience, and create good music? “It works,” Lindsay-Botten laughs. “I’ve been doing this for years and it always works.” She stresses the importance of a safe, non-judgmental environment with the focus on fun and relaxing together. Still, there is the odd “unauthorized harmony,” she says.

Rehearsals take place five times a week in North End, South End, Birch Cove, Upper Tantallon, and downtown Dartmouth. Singers register for a “home” rehearsal once a week but are welcome to attend as many as they’d like. While the average age of singers falls between 40 and 50, Lindsay-Botten says they’ve had singers as young as 11 and as old as 80.

You Gotta Sing also offers an unlimited bursary covering the registration fee to anyone who needs it. “That is a very important piece to me, that not only is it fully accessible to anyone who wants to sing regardless of their singing experience, but also regardless of their financial situation,” says Lindsay-Botten.

It’s about more than singing. “There’s sort of an affection that grows in a community choir,” she says. “Singing together allows us to know each other in a new way and support each other. There’s a unifying feeling there, like we’re all in this together.”

Proceeds from all their performances go to charity, with almost $15,000 donated since 2011. Leading the choir keeps her busy (she’s also a harpist and parent) but Lindsay-Botten is grateful for it. “It’s really unreal to me that I get to be in the middle of this, of these wonderful sounds and these wonderful people, and whatever this magic is of community choir. Honestly, I’m grateful every day.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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