Ana Freitas hits some high notes (and chases away some demons) with the Berlin Pop Choir…
Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke Bar is a dimly lit, almost claustrophobic place right across from the U-Bahn Warschauersstr.
On Tuesday nights, it’s worth ignoring the mouldy scent in the air, grabbing a beer and heading to the back room where you’ll see dozens of people from all over the world singing anything from Britney Spears to Iggy Pop.
This is no normal karaoke though; there’s no backing track, just the enthusiastic instruction of founder Lyndsey Cockwell, whose Berlin Pop Choir, is comprised wholly, she says, “from local people who love to sing”.
Which is basically all it takes to get into the choir, as I soon found out by paying seven euros to get in and being accepted straightway — despite the fact the entirety of my singing career has been played out (badly) under the shower.
There are no auditions, no tests. Anyone can just walk in, and it doesn’t even matter at which stage of the classes the group is at. You just drop by and “stand close to someone who knows what they’re doing”, advises Lyndsey. Within a few minutes, somewhat unexpectedly, our voices are merging into a quite harmonious chorus made up of differing tones and notes.
Lyndsey is a British singer and musician whose ability to reach high and low notes and play the guitar helps all the non-musician, non-singer participants of the choir figure out the notes we should be singing. Her comments are constantly reassuring: “One voice cannot ruin a whole choir,” she beams. “If someone commits a mistake, it just gets mixed along among the choir.” Phew.
Lyndsey started the choir in her living room with a few friends around three years ago. In that time she has recruited hundreds of people and held unique public performances at prime Berlin locations like Tempelhof Park, various churches — and also at Slow Travel Berlin’s very own event at the Markthalle IX back in April.
“We used to work on the basis of a 10-week course, after which there was a live performance”, explains Lyndsey after the workshop. “But lately the choir started to get more popular and we have scheduled performances before the end of the 10-week course.”
At first sight, the workshop experience can look more than a little amusing, especially the warm up exercises, which involve making weird noises with your mouth, shaking your body in a way that’s supposed to make it relaxed (it works!) and introducing yourself.
It reminded me of the acting exercises that help raise body awareness; it’s very refreshing – especially after a full working day – and makes you lose those awkward feelings often encountered when in the company of strangers.
It also helps that the BPC’s repertoire is no boring selection of psalms or ballads. The clue is in the name: this is about pop music of the contemporary kind, and the choir gets to belt out numbers by Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Friendly Fires to Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk and Duran Duran.
After all the funny noises and movements, the singing starts. Everyone is friendly and patient, no one expects you to reach that special high note or even to know any lyrics by heart. As we begin to rehearse Oasis’ Wonderwall, it’s quite something to see how we progress from not even knowing each other to a harmonious group within a couple of hours.
It reminds me of an old Brazilian saying: “He who sings, scares his demons away”. If there’s a concept to define the feeling of joining Berlin Pop Choir, this is pretty close: being with all kinds of people, of all ages, doing something just for the fun of it is a great way to feel both alive inside and mentally rested.
Cycling home, I find myself humming a certain tune to myself and smiling.
The Berlin Pop Choir runs regular workshops and course. Check their website for more info on other courses ranging from ukelele to a the more intensive Berlin Pop Ensemble.