Harmony brings community back into Toronto City Hall

Toronto Inspires when 70+ voices collectively croon.

Post by Lynda Chubak, a newbie to the community choir scene.

2TOCouncilMasthead2013As November at City Hall has been anything but harmonious, the fourth installment of Nightswimming Theatre’s five-part interactive new work brought welcome amicability to Council Chamber. This “pop-up” choir experience shared by more than seventy singing enthusiasts, and led by Dora Award winning music director Reza Jacobs and roots/jazz inspired vocalist Jani Lauzon, explored the political aspect of Why We Are Here! through singing and sound.

cityhall1Entering the restricted area normally reserved for Council Members feels rather surreptitious, as if we’re infringing on a distant colleague’s personal space. We scout out seats by looking at name plates at the stations assigned to councillors. Some choose a spot that aligns with their political affiliations. Others are more intent on expropriation. The Mayor’s end-aisle lounger immediately gets scooped up. While waiting, we goof around: swiveling in our leather chairs, testing out the Yes/No voting buttons.

From behind us, Jani Lauzon’s voice calmly emerges, prompting a unified hush, as she gracefully repeats an a capella refrain from a well-known traditional folk/gospel song.

Jani Lauzon

Jani Lauzon

We shall not, we shall not be moved
We shall not, we shall not be moved
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
We shall not be moved.

She begins a leisurely stroll along the outer ring of the room. Another voice joins her. Independently, yet collectively, and without any overt guidance, we rise from the security of our seats, and enter the promenade, until everyone is singing and encircling the now-vacant inner chamber. We become a “pop-up” community choir. Jani draws the promenade to a rest and passes the lead to Reza Jacobs.

Reza Jacobs

Reza Jacobs

For those secretly hoping to belt out a show tune or two, or even a song, the next sixty or so minutes are unexpected. First, Reza encourages us to be mindful, to accept offers from others, to shed our inner critic, and to “just clock it” when judgment creeps into our emotional space. We’ve now been primed. With negativity in check and eyes closed, we are led through a kind of vocal, vowel Ping-Pong. Instead of predictable hits back and forth, we’re lobbing dozens of distinctive and offbeat sound balls into the air. These scattershot tones and notes morph into an oddly concordant cacophony, leaving us feeling meditative and connected. This ends part one.

Before the break, we are asked to submit suggestions of what we would like our city to do, become or have, in order that these ideas could be incorporated into our next piece.

Why We Are Here! City Hall Council Chamber

Why We Are Here! City Hall Council Chamber

The result is a re-working of Jani’s opening verse, now with the newly crowd-sourced lyrics listed below. The evening ends with an exuberant rendition of the Why We Are Here! version of We Shall Not be Moved. On twitter, Jane Miller sums up the evening’s vibe with, “My heart got an amazing work out.”

Why We Are Here! was created by Nightswimming’s Brian Quirt and Martin Julien. Previous evenings, taking place in equally emblematic spaces, also explored aspects of our city: the commercial at Daniels Spectrum House in Regent Park; the sacred at Trinity St. Paul’s United Church; and the historic at Campbell House Museum.

The fifth and final culmination of this choral journey will take place January 12, 2014 at Theatre Passe Muraille. All are welcome and encouraged to attend. Contact Nightswimming Theatre for more information.

For more pics, visit Nightswimming’s Facebook Page.

Inspirational Takeaway: With harmony, City Hall can be transformed.

We Shall Not Be Moved – Why We Are Here! Version 

We shall not, we shall not be moved
We shall not, we shall not be moved
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
We shall not be moved

We shall, have more childcare
We shall, listen creatively
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
We shall harmonize

We shall, listen softly
We shall, change our thinking
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
We’ll plant seeds of hope

We shall, we shall sing together
We shall, we shall be free
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
We shall not be moved

We shall speak with wise thoughts
We shall, we shall walk in joy
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
We shall be one voice

We shall open up our hearts
We shall de-amalgamate
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
We shall think of ourselves as one

We shall house the homeless
We shall make art, for the council chamber
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
We shall be represented

We shall dance in our underpants
We shall accept each other
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
We shall cross the line

WE shall, we shall not divide
WE shall stand here side by side
Like a forest, supporting one another
We shall not divide

We shall, we shall not be moved
We shall, we shall not be moved
Just like a tree, standing in the water
We shall, take care of each other.

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