I hate karaoke. Like, pretty consistently karaoke makes me want to leave a bar and find refuge somewhere I can actually hold a conversation with friends rather than being plagued by the repeat offenders who shouldn’t be allowed to sing anywhere other than the privacy of their own showers.
But once in a while there’s that rare unicorn moment, usually when I’m a little liquored up: like when my old roommate Michael rocked “Pony” by Ginuwine, or a real talent brought down the house, or that one time when we stood on stools and benches and belted a few out — the whole bar together — for Olivia’s birthday.
The magic of those moments is the collective rendition, rather than the individual, often catalyzed by someone who actually knows what they’re doing. Those moments, while fleeting, are pretty unbelievable, as karaoke turns into something else entirely. It’s much closer to my past at Guilford College dance parties, when everyone would throw all they had into “Like a Prayer,” or once when we serenaded Brad the public-safety officer with “Piano Man.”
And that’s the beauty of PopUp Chorus, a Durham group that invites anyone to participate in the coolest sing-along event I think I’ve ever seen.
I was a little skeptical when Salem Norfleet Neff told me about the unpretentious evenings launched by middle school chorus teacher Seamus Kenney at the beginning of 2014. But it only took one video, a recording of the group singing Foxygen’s “How Can You Really?” in May, to win me over.
There’s a live band at the front of the gigantic room that is absolutely brimming with people, a bunch of them kids, who are just having the best damn time.
They found the unicorn, and figured out how to hold its mane and ride for a bit.
As its website explains, the PopUp Chorus is “the only chorus where you can show up when you want and skip it when you’re too busy. No audition, no weekly commitment, just show up and sing.” Participants come and learn two songs each time, then perform it to be filmed and offered to the world as a gift via YouTube.
Some of these folks are really belting it out. Others barely seem to know the words. But in the collective, all of the skill and enthusiasm levels fuse for a pretty moving performance.
I think it’s why some people go to church.
This is what community sounds like. It also might be the best idea for a first date I’ve ever seen.
PopUp Chorus is on hiatus for the summer. Maybe by the time it resumes, someone could get a Triad counterpart off the ground. I bet we could get Neff — a Winston-Salem native — or Kenney to come to town and show us how it’s done.