By Christine Leonard
CALGARY – Door-to-door caroling may not be at the top of your list of holiday priorities, but there’s definitely something to be said for gathering together with friends to raise your voices in song. Whether it’s wassailing with kinfolk or singing in the shower solo, public relations and punk rock promotions expert Melanie Kaye knows that carrying a tune in your heart is the best way to ward off the winter blues. That’s why she decided to start up her own DIY punk rock singing society.
“The name of the choir is Happy Hour Choir and I started it three years ago,” says Kaye. “I have sung in punk bands over the years and grew up in a home where music was always on and we were always singing. I saw Mavis Staples perform with a 100 piece choir in Dallas, Texas on Martin Luther King Day over 20 years ago and it was a very moving experience that inspired me to want to sing in a choir one day.”
Of course, you don’t have to be able to belt out the gospel like the iconic Staples Singers to join Happy Hour. You just have to have an open mind and the courage to open your mouth along with it.
“I think the key is to not be shy and really just go for it, but at the same time find your pocket so you are not singing over people. We don’t look for people that are amazing singers, but rather someone who loves to sing and understands that we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Kaye explains.
“The choir is currently ten women and one man that plays guitar and sings. Most of us live in the same neighborhood and our rehearsals take place at Lazy Daisy’s (a very cool cafe that is also the hub of our hood.) Dawn (who owns Lazy Daisy’s and a good friend) said we could rehearse there. Her support and letting us use her space was a great push to getting it all in place to make the choir happen.”
Having found a home for their weekly practice sessions, Happy Hour needed to select the songs that would suit their style and satisfy everyone’s tastes. With years in the music business, Kaye had no shortage of titles in mind.
“I have suggested a lot of the songs we’ve tried out over the three years, but everyone has said ‘Hey, why don’t we try this?’ Some songs stick and some don’t. Right now our set is a great mix of including covers of T. Rex, Doris Day, Iggy Pop and Against Me! We know when a song is a good fit based on how it sounds and how much fun we have singing it!”
Ultimately, the greatest benefit of joining and participating in a DIY choir is the positive energy that is generated in the presence of good friends, good music and good times.
“It is truly like having a group therapy session,” Kaye confirms “There is a lot of support for each other and we all agree that sometimes there are weeks when we ‘need’ choir. Singing together is such a release and we all feel better after we do it. It is a collaboration and when the choir has those moments that we are truly singing with each other it feels magical.”
The impact is even better when you get the spread the joy by performing for an appreciative crowd. Which the Happy Hour does at least a couple of times a year, treating audiences to sing-along-worthy cuts like “Imagine”, “Fairy-tale Of New York”, “Fuck You” by Lily Allen and “Fell In Love With A Girl” by The White Stripes.
“We have done charity events for local shelters and we have performed at The Bovine and The Velvet Underground,” Kaye reports. “Our next performance is on December 13 at The Horseshoe with The United Snakes. We recorded the backing vocals for two songs on the new album they have coming out next year and are doing backing vocals for those songs at a benefit show organized by Chuck Coles for Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary.”
Looking back at a year of ups-and-downs, Kaye is grateful for memorable and meaningful experiences she has shared with her chorus of companions.
“I have to say that for anyone thinking about starting a choir you should just do it and stop thinking about it. After I saw Mavis perform I thought about it for a long time, but it took me to be in a place in my life where I knew I needed to be active in trying to find joy and do things that make me happy. The Happy Hour Choir has greatly contributed to that.”DIY punk rock choir, Oi to the world!