Duo finds success in bringing people together in song

Nobu Adilman and Daveed Goldman are Choir! Choir! Choir!, which performs Wednesday evening at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. (Vanessa Heins/Supplied Photo)

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Daveed Goldman would never have fathomed eight years ago that leading a small group of singers as they prepared to perform at a friend’s birthday party would grow into a career that has taken him around the world playing music.

“I never thought I’d be sitting with my mic in front of me and playing my guitar, learning how to play (Cher’s) ‘Believe,’ doing a harmonic demo of it,” laughed Goldman, the guitar-playing half of Choir! Choir! Choir!

“This is like just the weirdest life I have right now. It’s great, and it’s pretty fun.”

Goldman and partner Nobu Adilman (or “Dabu”) perform at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on Wednesday evening as part of the Festival of Live Digital Art (FoldA). The pair will teach the audience how to sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the same song Choir! Choir! Choir! recorded with Rufus Wainwright after Cohen’s death, the video of which is their most viewed to date.

Their Wednesday performance in Kingston, though, comes with a twist. In addition to teaching the audience its parts, people in “hubs” in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto connected through a live video stream.

“I think it’s going to be like a big Skype call almost,” Goldman said.

“We’ll be in Kingston doing ‘Hallelujah,’ and the idea is there’ll be people in these different cities that’ll have a screen where they’re watching and participating. We won’t be in the room with them, but the idea is that everyone will be engaged. It’s an interesting experiment. We’ve never done it before and we don’t know how it’ll go.”

Goldman said if something goes wrong, that’s perfectly fine since it’s the glitches that usually make for the more memorable performances.

“So we’re excited about the opportunity to try to connect with people in other cities,” he said of Wednesday’s performance.

“I think we’ll be able to hear them, so they can sorta sing back, we’ll all sing it together, whether it’s in real time or not — we don’t really know because there may be some lag — but it’s more about like it’s almost a pilot project for doing something bigger, something really big.”

While most people know Choir! Choir! Choir! for the online videos of their performances, that’s only part of the evening. The pair use humour and energy to put the audience at ease and make them more receptive.

“I think a lot of people come to Choir! Choir! Choir! (and) think it’s like our ‘Hallelujah’ video. They think, ‘It’s going to be such a moving experience in this specific way.’ They don’t know what our show is about,” Goldman explained.

“A lot of it is just Nobu and I talking — being ourselves as just a way of letting people in. That’s what it’s all about. Not everyone likes it. Some people are going to be like, ‘I wish this was more like a church choir.’ If you wish it was more like that, this isn’t for you. If you wanna have fun and a big hang where it sounds beautiful at the end, then it is for you.”

Choir! Choir! Choir! built its reputation through its weekly drop-in singing sessions Clinton’s tavern in Toronto (which continues to this day). People would show up, pay $5, and receive a sheet of lyrics and music to that night’s chosen song. “Dabu” would teach them the arrangement, they sing, and then it’s filmed and put up online.

“There’s something communal that happens with choir, and that’s a big part of what we’re about: the collective room that night and this collection of people is unique to that night and will never be the same again, so let’s try to create something together this night,” Goldman suggested.

At first, they just taught the songs they wanted to. Nowadays, they are challenged to try different songs, different arrangements each week.

Just last week, for example, they tackled the mega-popular song “Shallow” from the soundtrack of A Star is Born.

“People love that song. It’s not one of my favourite songs, but (the other) night was incredible,” Goldman said. “It was packed, and people were turned away. It was fun to do what other people like.”

In addition to touring, the pair also does corporate performances and the like. In the past couple of weeks, they went from singing “Hallelujah” with Wainwright at the unveiling of a new 9/11 memorial in New York City, and then played the next night in Seattle alongside Grandmaster Flash.

“We’re doing weird stuff, so, no, I would not have thought that we’d be doing these sorts of things when we were at a real estate office singing ‘Nowhere Man’ eight years ago,” laughed Goldman.

Goldman said he and Adilman don’t have any plans to take Choir! Choir! Choir! in a new direction any time soon.

“I feel that people will always want to interact with each other in some way, and music is always going to be there,” he said.

“And people will always want to laugh. These are things that aren’t going anywhere, so as long as we’re doing that, we’ll be fine.”




What: Choir! Choir! Choir! performs as part of FoldA (Festival Of Live Digital Art).

When: Wednesday, June 12, 7 p.m.

Where: Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, 370 King St. W.

Cost: $15-$20

For more: choirchoirchoir.com; folda.ca.