Call it PopUp Chorus 2.0.
At the end of May, the group’s conductor and co-founder, Seamus Kenney, announced that he was leaving to start a choir of his own. The split wasn’t entirely unexpected: PopUp Chorus became a hit despite the competing aesthetics of its founders. Lauren Bromley Hodge, the group’s owner and co-founder, wanted to involve as much of the community as possible; Kenney balked at the idea of playing to the crowd and stoking its numbers with familiar favorites. But in May, a people’s choice-themed event demonstrated to Hodge the value of letting the masses have their say. As for the indie-loving Kenney, maybe he was less than thrilled to lead a rendition of Toto’s “Africa”?
Kenney’s skills and presence were a key component of PopUp Chorus’s mass appeal. He was a strong front-person, and she was an organizational force. Still, during the summer months, Hodge came up with a new iteration that will rely upon talented guest conductors to fill Kenney’s shoes and harness social media to bolster turnout. That system debuts tonight, at Motorco at 7 p.m.
For tonight’s event, Hodge has tapped Collier Reeves and Amelia Shull, local musicians and founders of Girls Rock NC, to lead perhaps 150 gathered vocalists through the byzantine wordplay of They Might Be Giants’ “Birdhouse” and comb the deeper recesses of Dolly Parton’s still-heart-stopping 1973 hit, “Jolene.” Musical director Jonathan Henderson, a busy local musician who, like his predecessor, teaches music at an area school, is charged with putting the band together week by week. He will assist guest conductors and working on arrangements, too.
The other key change is that the community will have an ongoing voice in song selection. But before you shake your head at the thought of more ditties in the Toto vein, consider the voting for this week’s event. As Hodge points out, the nerd-classic “Birdhouse in Your Soul” won out over such FM radio royalty as the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” Maybe the people’s choice is more nuanced than some would suspect.
Meanwhile, Kenney has just announced dates for the fall season of his new Flash Chorus, which will take place at Motorco as well as sites in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
Can the Triangle keep two open choirs afloat? Only time will tell. Until then, Hodge hopes to keep building on her group’s audacious beginning.
“I’m bargaining that the power of singing, great songs and excellent, generous musicians/teachers at the helm will once again create some magic,” she says.