September 7, 2014 Leave a comment
If you’ve spoken to me about singing–or just at all–in the past year, then I’ve probably complained to you about the hot new choir sensation taking over Toronto, that I won’t name here, but rhymes with Fire!Fire!Fire! The concept of this group is genius and it appealed to me right way. I love to sing. I love to sing with other people. I love performing. What I hate, is rehearsing. F!3 lets you have all that. Weekly song choices are posted in their Facebook group–you’re meant to “listen to the fucking song[s]!” The group meets a couple nights a week at some super cool bar and you choose a night to attend. You pay $5, get a lyric sheet with the songs for the night and the leaders (a couple guys–we’ll get to them) teach you a simple three part harmony. If it sounds good after a few tries, they’ll often record it and post that video on YouTube.
This seemed right up my alley, so one night last summer I took myself to the venue for the 7ish start time–and then nothing happened. Not for about an hour anyway. Not one damn thing got underway for nearly an hour. I should make clear, this was a weeknight and this event was meant to end by 10:30–just about the latest I want to be out on a weeknight (especially since I was starting work at 8:30am those days). So late start time–strike one. I still had a lot of hope though.
As the room began to fill I noticed that the group was relatively diverse but definitely skewed young. There were a lot of girls in high-waisted pants and buns on the very tippy-tops of their heads. Many, many pairs of glasses with huge frames were worn. I already did all this shit back in the 90s so I have no use for it now. It was ugly then. It’s still ugly.
By the time we finally got started it was really crowded and people were being oddly aggressive about maintaining or scoring space. I don’t generally take my singing with a side of assault so I stopped trying to stand anywhere near the front or middle and just sort of let myself be elbowed all the way to the back of the room. I ended up in what was mostly the men’s section. Physical violence–strike two.
Then a weird thing happened. It started to feel like a fan club–a fan club I wasn’t I wasn’t a member of. There were a lot of inside jokes between the people near the stage–predominantly women–and the leaders of the group. A lot of things said were never transmitted over the mic so the rest of the room was just kind of left out. At the same time no one around me initiated any conversation at all. I tried making small talk a couple times but it was like being a black comic in KKK-country. It was a huge effort for me to make these overtures but they seemed to fall flat every time, so I stopped trying after a while. Weird unfriendliness–strike three.
F!3 , you’re out!
Despite this strike out, I was still going to give it as full a chance as I could. Thankfully we finally did some singing and for what it’s worth, that part was what I’d hoped for.
By 10:00, though we’d only gotten through one song, everyone seemed to automatically filter away from the area and head to the bar or outside for a smoke. I approached one of the leaders and said it was my first time, that I thought it was neat and asked if we were still going to be doing the second song since it was so late. If derision could kill, I’d be ashes spread over Lake Ontario. I was informed with all the annoyance in his heart that we were definitely doing the second song and that we were just taking a break. Because, as an obviously new person, I was apparently supposed to already know that they have no regard for time and always run late. Startling abundance of attitude by organizers–strike four.
Annoyed but still determined to enjoy the evening, I finally just walked up to a girl who appeared to be alone and asked her if she was new as well. She wasn’t. But she managed to find it within her to engage with me, introduced me to a few more people and I kind of hung out with her for the rest of the night.
We broke at 11:30. Strike five.
I left that night with mixed feelings. I was really, really bothered by how cliquey and unwelcoming it was overall. I was stunned by the star-fucking behaviour of all those women elbowing me out of the way so they could be closer to their dear leaders. And I was really disappointed by the fact that those dear leaders seemed to lap it up.
I’m not one to give up that easily though, so I tried going back a couple more times. The second time was a complete failure. The girl I’d met before wasn’t there. The people she’d introduced me to didn’t really seem to remember me though it had only been a couple weeks. It was a lonely evening and I didn’t have it in me to fight to make another connection. I left at the break. True to form, it was around 10:00 and they were one song in. I discussed all of this with a friend who has also attended–a woman who has travelled the world picking up friends as she goes and has a personality like July 1st fireworks–fun and mesmerizing. She is no shrinking violet, but even she found it strangely difficult to connect with people at this choir and stopped attending. She and I went together one night and then found that neither of us were interested in the song selection so we sat, had a drink and caught up with each other instead.
That was last fall and I haven’t been back since. In the meantime, my Facebook newsfeed has been blowing up with the success of this choir. They’ve performed at a number of events this year including NXNE, a TIFF after party and even an awards show. They’ve performed along side some great artists and been featured on at least one blog about the best ways to meet people in Toronto. They have absolutely gone viral. And I hate everything they stand for because, while individually I’m sure they’re all wonderful folks, collectively, they’re simply awful. The sad part is it wouldn’t take much to make it better. A shift in attitude at the top from “let’s do some resume padding and get our 20 minutes fame with an (un)healthy dose of ego-stroking” to “let’s just be as nice and inclusive as our concept intended” would change the entire dynamic of that group. But when you’ve got the media telling you you’re awesome and a coven of (young, hot) adoring women at the front of the stage beaming your awesomeness back at you, why on earth would you care if the older women and men who just want to sing, feel “part of” or not? I might not. They certainly don’t.
I sang in a traditional community choir for a few years and while I don’t have the time for regular rehearsals these days, I still like to attend their concerts whenever I can. I spoke to the director after their Christmas performance last year; this was a few months after my abortive attempts at making F!3 work for me. She–the director–is an amazing woman who has inspired love in the bosom of many a choir member, man and woman alike. She’s married with children, she teaches, she composes and she directs the choir at her church in addition to directing this community choir. I don’t know how she finds the hours in a day to do what she does, but she does it all with a grace and loveliness that I haven’t seen often in my life. She was, as ever, concerned about whether or not I’m singing, even if I’m not singing with her choir. So I told her about F!3 , but only to illustrate how maddening it is to know that a community choir like hers–a choir that puts in the hours, a choir that tackles immensely challenging repertoire with a group of mostly untrained singers, a choir that takes pains to have a welcome committee–will never get the kind of attention that F!3 does. And that hurts my soul. She took it in stride, graceful lady.
I think likely because of my affiliation with F!3, I found out about a live karaoke band and I’ve been going to their gigs pretty regularly. It’s super fun and it’s a crazy friendly crowd. I’ve since left the choir’s Facebook group.