Summertime… and the singing is easy. From farmer’s markets to backyard barbecues, hearty voices raise in song.
At a patio in Colonial Heights, SE Portland-based PDX Vox marks summer with outdoor singing every Wednesday evening at the Presbyterian Church where regular sessions will resume in the fall. The group is the area’s first and largest a cappella community choir featuring some 100-plus singers in five groups coached separately at various venues and times. Rehearsals culminate in twice yearly concerts that pack TaborSpace to the hilt with fans.
Songwriter, recording artist and teacher Marie Schumacher founded the group in 2004 after recognizing a void in opportunities for singers after they left high school and college. She and her team of intrepid instructors have developed arrangements of popular songs both foot-stomping and spine-tingling, with harmonic blends and vocal reaches.
At the end of concerts, the five individual groups come together to perform groupwide songs that this year featured Feel It Still by Portland artist Portugal The Man.
Schumacher, describes PDX Vox as a cross between a chorus and a band, with voices mimicking the instrument parts and percussion. Auditions are not required – only an appreciation of pop music. With its tagline, Soar through Song, the group seeks to build community, good feelings and creative learning.
While Schumacher and her instructors bring joy to every rehearsal, they recognize that balancing patience and rigor, growth and musicality can be a challenge. “The hardest part of PDX Vox is staying true to my vision of creating a place where every type of singer can thrive.”
Schumacher has released four albums of original music and coaches the Central Catholic Ramophones. Her current band features Steven Patton and Aaron Elliot, also PDX Vox instructors.
“Having their vocal versatility as a resource – not to mention their skillful playing on keys and bass – has taken my live show to a much higher level.”
During the summer, weekly rehearsals have given way to pick-up choirs that meet at Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church. Schumacher calls this a great way for new people to consider the program without making a big commitment. Details can be found at pdxvox.com.
A few miles away, the forty-plus member Portland Peace Choir meets weekly at the Courtyard at Mt. Tabor Retirement Center at 60th and Division.
On its website, the group says it sings to lessen isolation, feel connection, heal wounds, inspire joy, honor sacred traditions, learn new languages and promote peace. President Peter Lofy says, “We don’t need perfect. It’s more important to get the message out of unity, cooperation and care of the earth.”
Founding member Fred Sly says the haunting music is intended to lessen the outrage and heartbreak of a world in pain. A spring performance at the Courtyard at Mt. Tabor featured Earth Song with woven harmonies that “lift spirits and give singers and listeners the courage to go on in the world”.
The nine-year-old, non-audition group takes all comers of all ages so long as they believe in the power of song to bring hope and make a positive difference in the world. More information can be found at portlandpeacechoir.org.
A group that started in the SE in 2013 takes a unique approach to song. Rather than using sheet music, Sing Portland uses a call and response approach to choral music. “Everything we do is by ear,” says founder Marion Van Namen who left the corporate world to become a music therapist and teacher. “Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to facilitate joy through music,” she says.
Among her goals is to “heal the wounds” of anyone ever told they weren’t good enough. “If you can talk, you can sing,” she explains. “No one should think they can’t sing.”
Sing Portland semesters are typically built around a theme. This summer is focused on Afro-Cuban music. The fall will likely be focused on folk music. Gospel and spiritual is often a theme.
While the group originated in SE, performances are typically held on the westside at the Cedarwood Waldorf School in SW and PSU Farmer’s Markets. One of her three citywide sessions meets in SE: singportland.com.
Community singing groups abound throughout Portland and that includes the beloved Portland Interfaith Gospel Choir which now practices and performs in NE rather than SE.
In our town, not singing is not an option. MP