The Northampton Arts Council works to support and nurture the arts in the city of Northampton. The Council awards grants twice each year to artists and arts groups from both state and locally-raised funds, and seeks to improve public awareness of the arts. Its' goals include maintaining and preserving the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Northampton, programming such annual events of interest to the community as First Night Northampton and Transperformance.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Group Sing on July 13

The next Group Sing is Wednesday, July 13, 7pm, at the Northampton Senior Center, 67 Conz Street. Free and open to the public. Air Conditioning and lots of free parking.

"To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it!"


A group of people sing during a meeting of "Group Sing" at Northampton Senior Center. "The point is to allow a person who thinks they can't sing feel comfortable singing," says Roy Faudree, who leads the singing. JERREY ROBERTS

When raising your voice loosens the soul


For The Daily Hampshire Gazette, June 1, 2016

The human body is a musical instrument. It’s a universal birthright. We’re born to sing, and especially to sing with others, and the more we do the better our health, our figure, our social life and (studies have shown) the longer we live.

That’s the simple theory behind "Group Sing," which has been rolling along more or less monthly at the Northampton Senior Center since 2008.

"It’s not for skilled singers,’’ says Roy Faudree, the theater artist who serves faithfully, if loosely, even clownishly at times, as loosener of inhibitions or "master of the revels," in the words of one of the regulars, street theater veteran Helen Wise.

Faudree, an actor, producer and longtime theater arts teacher, is best known locally as co-founder and coprincipal with Sheena See of Northampton’s experimental No theater and as the mise-en-scene master who starting in the early 1980s helped convert the Young at Heart Chorus from a sing-a-long at the Salvo House to international theatrical sensation.

Think of Group Sing as traveling back in time to Young at Heart Original.

"The point is to allow a person who thinks they can’t sing feel comfortable singing," Faudree says. "Take me. I can’t sing. I do sing, because I don’t like to be told I can’t do something. But anyone who heard me sing would say very clearly, ‘That person cannot sing.’ So this is the place for me – a place where I can sing."

One c annot overestimate how important it is to have such a place for the general encouragement of singing with others, he adds.

A brief back-of-the-envelope survey of five randomly selected current participants bears this statement out. Two out of five were stifled in their singing as young children. Let’s extrapolate: that’s potentially 40 percent of humanity.

One of them, Betsy Stone, says she is still "closeted" as a singer and had to come to her first session with a friend for moral support.

Another, Patricia Woolf, said that her first memory of elementary school chorus was being told rather sharply "to keep quiet." Which she did immediately, and continued to keep quiet decades – at least vocally. She did fairly well on the trumpet in school band, and eventually took up the banjo. She learned she could play by ear and had a good sense of rhythm – everything and more she needed to make music with others, it turns out.

"There’s a DJ in my head," says Woolf. "I wake up every morning with a song in my head and I find that the song defines my day."

Group Sing has enabled her to come into full musical flower.

Group Sing is kind of zen – it’s about "No." No stage, no spectators please, no concerts – and no DJ either, no recorded music.

"It’s not Karaoke," says Dave Engle, a regular with his wife, Carolyn. "It’s all live." Instead of a DJ, there’s Roy in his flowery Hawaiian shirt, an expression on his face s omewhere between goofy and beatific, waving his arms trying to "shape" the general sound in the most general of directions.

The more people, the better the blend, and the less it matters what note any individual is on, says Faudree. There is this organic, mysterious "shaping" that happens, he’s found, when the joy takes over and the group gets going to a rolling boil.

"We do try to adhere roughly to the same rhythm," he adds. "It is important that we be on the same train. But still, all and all, it’s a kind of anarchy."

Group Sing is amateur with a capital A and that stands for Love. There is one necessary concession to "professionalism," however, says Faudree.

Key to the "success" of the amateur sing is having accompanis ts on keyboard or strings or squeeze box who really know what they are doing.

They need to be versed in – or can totally fake – almost any tune in 150 years or more of popular song repertoire, from old timey church gospel through jazz and rock to funk.

They add just a touch of elan.

Fortunately, the Valley is rich in this resource, and thanks to music critic Ken Maiuri (another Young at Heart veteran), who not only is a versatile and wide-ranging musician himself but has been able to tap into his own rich network for the likes of the Roches, Tom Mahnken, Bill Arnold, Chris Haynes, Joe Blumenthal (the list goes on) to fill in when he cannot be there to help out.

Group Sing has always been well equipped.

With precise pitch and reliable beat as underpinning – and just a bit of professional panache to lift their sights – the singers have the springboard they need to make what Faudree calls the "leap of joy," the leap that is, for beginner and pro alike, the soul of the music.

The next Group Sing will be Wednesday, June 1, at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:45 p.m.) at the Northampton Senior Center, 67 Conz St. It’s free.


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