In the 1970s, the band The New Seekers had a hit song called “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)”. Coca Cola assembled a group of individuals from all corners of the world to sing a variation of the song on the top of a mountain, for their commercial. Choir Nation brings to life the 1970s hit song and raises it to a whole new level.
While conducting research for Brock University, Todd Green met musician Murray Foster, formerly of the bands Moxy Früvous and Great Big Sea. Green, Assistant Marketing Professor at the University, began discussing ideas with Foster on how to merge companies and music together. “We started thinking how to bring the two together and we decided to teach the company how to sing,” explains Green, who has prior research experience in the growing area of employee engagement, team building, and life-work balance.
Realizing that choir would be an immediate way for employees to make connections in the workplace, the pair founded Choir Nation, a program that offers a unique singing experience to companies and communities around Southern Ontario. “There is lots of research of the benefits of having friends at work,” says Green. Their grassroots method helps to build relationships among colleagues and improve morale in the workplace.
Foster and Green have found that through involvement in a choir everyone is on the same level playing field. “Anyone from any level in the company is open to join the choir and it takes the hierarchy away.” says Green.
Choir Nation offers a variety of programs for participants to choose from: Battle of the Choirs, An Evening With, Harmonies for Help, customized events such as Conference Choir, as well as a weekly drop in choir for members of the community. “We have a team of music directors in Niagara, Hamilton, and Toronto,” says Green “It could be a 90 minute way to break up meetings or a way to end the day or a way to lead a performance with our artist roster,” explains Green. “We can pretty much do anything.”
Previous choir and singing experience is not necessary as each program begins with a music lesson by a trained professional including: basic vocal warm ups and techniques. The group rehearses and learns three to four songs before performing. Green and Murray will match the group with a professional musician to perform with on the day of the final performance.
From large corporate groups on a concert stage to a small ensemble of university students singing in a common space, the versatility of the programs reaches all types of groups in a variety of settings across Southern Ontario.
In their program Harmonies for Help, Choir Nation brings companies and the community together. “Before Christmas, we had 20 singers from the Brock University MBA program and a second group sing three songs each at the St. Catharines General Hospital. Then the two groups joined together to perform “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer,” says Green. “The response from the community was overwhelming, everyone in the hospital commented on how great it was.” Each Harmonies for Help event comes with a $1000.00 charitable donation to the hospital. “We provide support to our hospital partners,” says Green. Choir Nation also donates a portion of all profits from their programs to three music charities.
While Harmonies for Help focuses on bringing together co-workers, the drop-in program joins strangers in the community together for a few hours of fun. Their drop-in choir meets every Monday evening from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm in St. Catharines, Ontario at the Maytay Cafe. For a nominal fee of $15.00 the group will learn a song or two and then head into the main part of the cafe for a performance.
“One reason why I love the drop-in program is that what we learn is well-known and not traditional choir songs,” says Kelly Vlaar, a weekly drop-in participant. “During the first week we learned Toto’s ‘Africa,’ which is a song I love, and in a little over an hour we learned their different parts and sounded very good.”
The program is a casual, yet invigorating experience for participants. “It peaked my interest because I wanted to try something adventurous in 2017,” says Vlaar, who admits when she sang in the past she often would lip sync the challenging parts of a song. “I knew it would put me out of my comfort zone, which was my goal.”
“From the moment I hesitantly walked by myself into the room the first evening, the friendly faces that greeted me and initiated conversation helped me to overcome my fear and initial anxiety,” says Vlaar who looks forward to having an evening to herself away from a hectic family and work schedule. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew once that first session had finished, the program was exactly what I was looking for.”
Tammy Sweeney was introduced to Green while organizing a Conference Choir session during the Women in Leadership conference that she organizes. Impressed by the experience, Sweeney joined the drop-in choir “I travel frequently for business, so the drop-in feature is key. I don’t want to feel like I am letting down a choir,” explains Sweeney. “I love to sing, and I love to meet new people.” Sweeney has found a great deal of solace with the program. “I am in a very stressful place in my life right now, and I don’t make much time to play. One night a week I get to relax, be with great people, and sing my heart out. It’s freeing,” says Sweeney.
Choir Nation is a way to bring people together regardless of their musical abilities.
“Sing loud and proud. You are a lot better than you think you are,” says Green, who admits he gets a bit of stage fright when performing. “If you sing it wrong no one will judge you. Our choir director will work with the group and help overcome any fear or embarrassment people may have,” says Green.
“It is a great way to step out, do something different and make friends really fast,” says Green. “We are not an app or a form of social media, it is an old school way of bringing people together.”
If we could assemble the original crowd of singers that Coca Cola brought together on a hilltop in Italy in 1971 to sing “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” and ask them how they felt that day I think their experiences would be the same as Sweeney’s words, “I get to sing great songs, meet great people, and perform. You just can’t beat it.”