Viral video launches T.O. choir into Bowie tribute stratosphere
As the founders of Toronto’s drop-in singing group Choir! Choir! Choir!, Nobu Adilman and Daveed Goldman are used to getting the crowd on their side.
But they’ve never had to wrangle the likes of Miley Cyrus and Mumford and Sons.
On Friday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York, they’ll lead the audience and 20 different artists — who also include the Pixies, Blondie, Cat Power and the Roots — in the finale of a David Bowie tribute night.
They’ll also lead a singalong at tonight’s tribute at Carnegie Hall, featuring performances by Cyndi Lauper, the Flaming Lips and many other big names.
“We’re going to do our best to have a really transcendent moment at the end, after all of these incredible performers have been playing,” Adilman said at his Toronto home.
“This is what we do, we get people singing,” he added. “The challenge is: how quickly can we make people feel like they’re on our side and that we’re all partying together?”
The duo was called upon to perform at the Bowie galas after a video of Choir! Choir! Choir! singing a goosebump-inducing version of “Space Oddity” went viral. The video was filmed at the Art Gallery of Ontario just days after the singer’s death from cancer on Jan. 10 at age 69.
The subject of this year’s “music of” event at Carnegie Hall, a benefit for music education programs, was coincidentally announced just hours before Bowie’s death and was so popular the second date was added at Radio City Music Hall.
For those who can’t make it to the Big Apple, the Radio City Music Hall show will be live-streamed in exchange for a donation to the event’s charity partners.
The pair was “shocked” when organizers emailed them out of the blue. Adilman called performing at Carnegie Hall “a pipe dream” and thought the invite was a prank at first.
As the old joke goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practise, practise, practise. Now it’s like, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Choir! Choir! Choir!” he said.
The two admitted to nerves about what will be their biggest crowd yet and said they haven’t had rehearsals with the celebrity performers because of their busy schedules. The most nerve-racking part will be the moment they step onto the Carnegie Hall stage.
“I think as long as we create the vibe in the room, that’s the most important thing, because ultimately it’s just about everyone feeling this kind of moment,” Goldman said. “We sort of spin these moments and create them for people.”
The two are more used to the backroom at Clinton’s Tavern on Bloor St. W., where, with Goldman on guitar and Adilman conducting, singers come out for practices on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, belting out songs ranging from Justin Bieber to Bob Marley to Phil Collins.
Adilman estimates the group has more than 1,000 active members who range in age from their 20s to 70s.
Twenty members of the group’s performance choir will join the New York City Youth Chorus onstage during the singalong.
The “most painful part,” said Adilman, was not being able to take more singers, since being as inclusive as possible is part of what sets Choir! Choir! Choir! apart.
Since starting the group five years ago, Adilman and Goldman have seen their numbers swell, just by word of mouth, and have gotten calls from choirs in North Carolina, Winnipeg and Houston that want to emulate their model.
“There’s something nice and kind of retro about singalongs that has gone away,” said Goldman of the group’s appeal.
“The simplicity of people just singing together just doesn’t happen anymore.”