For many, a choir is something that conjures images of school or church groups, and that’s it. If you want to sing your favorite rock and pop tunes as an adult, it’s car karaoke or singing in the shower — and hoping your kids aren’t secretly recording you for their Instagram story.
That’s why Jill Teas and Betsy Marino Leighton created Voices Rock!, a choir for adults (and teenagers 16 and older) that sings pop, rock and chart hits without the need to audition, read music or have any previous singing experience.
“In 2014, I moved back [to Denver] from London, where I had been in a few different choirs, and I was looking for a similar non-audition, casual experience but couldn’t find anything here,” said Leighton.
She looked for a partner who had experience with musical direction, found Teas, and they co-founded Voices Rock! in 2013 at a bar on Colfax. They’re now more than 300 members strong and just sold out a concert at Denver University’s Newman Center.
“Come for the music, stay for the community”
“For me, it was about creating a sense of community together,” said Leighton. “One of our taglines is ‘come for the music, stay for the community,’ and that really does sum up what and who we are.”
Teas said that when Leighton approached her and explained her rock choir experience in London, “it was like a lightbulb went off.”
She said she’s spent her entire adult life teaching children music in classrooms, but she was compelled to sign on because “the idea of having adults sing together not in a church was such a great opportunity to create something completely accessible to anybody.”
Voices Rock! also has a younger version, VR2, for those under 16. Learn more here.
Teas said there’s a whole community of people out there who love to sing, many of whom did in youth or school choirs, but who had nowhere to go as adults. Others, she said, never had a chance to sing, don’t consider themselves singers or may have been intimidated because they have no formal training.
“We welcome people of all levels”
“We welcome people of all levels,” she said. “There’s always something for everyone. We sing in three part harmony. The music is very accessible for any adult to just step in and start singing.”
Voices Rock! now has locations on Colfax at the Sie Film Center, in Park Hill, Congress Park, Louisville and the Highlands. Choir members can join a 10-week session for $200, and attend any of the locations, which meet four nights a week.
Diane Goldsmith leads the Highlands choir, which practices from 7 to 8:15 p.m. Thursday nights at The Garage, 3830 W. 32nd Ave.
Goldsmith was previously involved with the performing arts program Up with People!, including as a vocal instructor. She’s been singing since she was 7 years old, and her love of music is infectious. She lives in the Highlands and teaches music and drama at KIPP Denver Collegiate High School. She also sings with a tribute band called Stone Beat Invasion.
“To me, Voices Rock rock means community. It’s a place where people can come — no matter their background, expertise or talent — and feel welcome,” Goldsmith said.
“We love to sing and have a blast doing it!”
“From my experience, the Highlands crew is very welcoming and laid back,” Goldsmith continued. “We love to sing, and have a blast doing it! We learn, grow, struggle and succeed together! Each session that I’ve done with Voices Rock, the group becomes this bonded force to be reckoned with! I’m very much looking forward to working with another group this spring and excited to continue to bring people together through the power of singing!”
Highlands resident (and The Denver North Star staff) Nathalie Jautz-Bickel said, “I finally found the right choir for me. It is laid back, but structured enough to really enjoy singing but also learn and train your voice,” she said, adding that Goldsmith is “a very talented and experienced singer, and her sense of humor always lets me leave rehearsal on a high note.” She said it’s a fantastic group of people from mixed backgrounds and everyone is welcome.
“Diane is a much beloved director,” said Teas. “We actually have people who live outside the area who drive to the Highlands to be with her.”
Highlands branch actively recruiting for new members
The Highlands branch boasts about 50 members, but is actively recruiting more for the next session that starts the first week of February. While you can always just drop in for a “taster” class, they encourage you to register at VoiceRock.com so they have music prepared for you when you come.
Last session, the choirs covered “SOS” by Abba, “Dear Theodosia” from Hamilton, “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol, “We Are the Champions” by Queen, and a ’70s medley. All of the music is available to members online, so if you miss a class, you can download and listen to it, or attend one of the other locations.
At the end of the 10-week session, Voices Rock! coordinates performances, which have been held at large venues like the Newman Center and Red Rocks. They also periodically host additional performances at venues ranging from local bars and churches to TED Talks.
“It truly is a come-as-you-are choir”
Leighton said one of the other things that really distinguishes Voices Rock! from other choirs is that they work hard to create a casual social atmosphere where people can get to know one another.
“We allow members to bring snacks and drink wine at rehearsals, so it’s a social opportunity for people,” she said. “For some people it is their one night a week out and others it is helping them get through a rough spot in their lives. We have some people who use it as a way to do something together with other family members, like father-daughter pairs, couples — we have one family that has 30 members of their extended family participating!”
Both said it’s a great resolution for the new year.
“As a 2020 goal, if you want to do something that is going to shake it up, build friends and develop your brain, this is your chance to do something really fun and unique and exciting in this new decade,” said Teas. “It truly is a come-as-you-are choir. You just have to have the desire to sing.”
Photos by Sabrina Allie or courtesy of Voices Rock!