For many, singing in public can be a nerve-wracking experience. It’s part of the reason why breaking out in song is often confined to the shower.
But not if Langley resident conductor Peggy Taylor and the Open Circle Singers have their way. The South Whidbey-based community choir hopes to bring those shower vocalists out from behind the curtain.
“Early on in life, a lot of people are told ‘do you realize you’re singing out of tune?’ and they hardly sing again,” said Taylor. “But I don’t actually believe there are many tone-deaf people in the world. So I wanted to give people the opportunity and joy of singing and harmonizing with each other without the judgmental atmosphere.”
The Open Circle Singers is a choir that abides by its name; it is open to all, regardless of singing talent and experience. The choir is about 80 members strong, a turnout Taylor considers “huge” considering the South End’s overall population. The community choir formed 14 years ago with the intention of always being an informally-organized choir without a board of directors and the pressures that come with a competitive performance choir. For Taylor and its members, the Open Circle Singers is a community resource.
Practice sessions are held 7-9 p.m. every Monday during choir season at the little theater in South Whidbey High School. The season typically starts in early September and goes through June, with a break during the December holiday season. The choir typically performs twice during its season, and the next performance is slated for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 10 at the Whidbey Institute. Entry is on a donation basis.
The choir’s vocalists come from a range of musical backgrounds. Some have extensive singing experience and are shaking off rust after years without singing. Some have minimal experience and many, if not most, have none whatsoever. But that isn’t an issue for anyone, something that’s evident in the enthusiastic smiles and the lighthearted atmosphere at practice.
“This is a unique way that we express our feelings through music and everyone is welcome,” Laurie Julian, Langley resident and soprano, said. “It’s not about performance, it’s about building a strong communal feeling. It energizes me every time and I always go home smiling.”
Choir members don’t need to be able to read music, according to Taylor. Everything is set up so Open Circle Singers is as accessible as possible. Taylor says a prospective member could arrive to a practice session without knowing whether their vocal abilities lie in the lower or higher range. No matter how rough, the choir can work with any voice as Taylor knows the value choral singing can bring.
“Research has been done on choral singing and how it’s good for the brain, for memory and for the immune system,” Taylor said. “There was even a study done in Italy that shows those who sing in choirs tend to vote more. I guess it shows singing in choirs has a connection to civic engagement.”
For choir members, singing with the Open Circle Singers has a certain revitalizing quality that is invaluable during the gloomy winter months. Some members head into weekly practices feeling tired and lethargic, according to Julian, but go home energized and full of life. Julian attributes that feeling to the sheer power generated by nearly 100 people singing in unison. She says one can feel the vibration of all the voices.
Yet, a recurring theme that seemed to bring all members back to the weekly practice sessions is the sense of family. The Open Circle Singers know what’s happening in each other’s lives and see each other as good friends, say Julian and tenor Bruce Rowland. Choir members see each other in a different light, as singing brings a sense of vulnerability with it.
After years of hitting notes low and high, the sense of community is strong.
“After 10 years of singing in the choir, it’s become a real home for me,” Rowland said. “We feel like this is something for the community that cheers people up. I know I get a lot out of being here.”