(First published in the December 12, 2019 issue of City Pages)
The Grand Theater’s newest thing is Insta-Choir, a pop-up singing group for anyone
Tim Buchholz leads an Insta-Choir session at The Grand.
If you search for Insta-Choir on Facebook, you’ll find a few different pages and groups, and you’ll find videos of this happening at the Grand Theater. You’ll find past participants raving about the experience, sharing videos of the performance while giving directions of where they can be found in said video.
What won’t you find? You won’t come across a Facebook event for the next one. You won’t find a schedule of upcoming Insta-Choirs. There’s no set list to be found, or a purpose.
Exactly, says Sean Wright, executive director of the Grand Theater.
So what is it? Insta-Choir, started in October, is essentially a pop-up choir. It works like this: People sign up to get text alerts. A few days prior to the event, Grand Theater employees send out text with the time and day of the Insta-Choir. Those who want to participate show up at The Grand. They’re given a song (the first one in October was “Africa” by Toto), and led as a chorus by UWSP-Wausau professor, area musician and super-athlete Tim Buchholz. The choir works on the song for an hour under Buchholz’s direction, and at the end, there’s a final run through that serves as a sort of performance.
And that’s it. Every goes home, or finds a place for a post-singing beer or drink.
There’s no performance to train for, no regularly scheduled practices, and no one is ever under any obligation to come again. Which is why many of them will.
It’s all for fun, says Katy Lang, director of education and community engagement at The Grand. “I love that there is no endgame other than enjoying yourself,” Lang says. “There’s no performance, no memberships; just show up, work together for an hour with a bunch of strangers. It’s just for fun. There are few things that are just for fun like that.”
Wright came across the idea from a colleague who worked with the City Recital Hall in Sydney, Australia. She told him about a flash mob choir they had a lot of success with.
So far it’s proven pretty popular. The first one in October attracted 60 singers, and the next one 75, Lang says. (That November event had the group singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”)
The Insta-Choir is the latest in the Grand’s Engagement series. The idea is to reach out to those who otherwise might not come to the Grand, and to go beyond the “buy a ticket, watch a show” interaction, Wright says. Other examples of the engagement series include a line dancing class held a couple of weeks ago, in partnership with The Landing of the YMCA.
And Buchholz was the perfect person to lead it, Wright says. Some people were apprehensive about showing up to Insta-Choir, and many hadn’t sung in a while, making for a good mix of those with singing experience and those who were a little rusty.
“Buchholz eliminates those barriers,” Wright says. “He makes people comfortable.”
As a music professor, Buchholz says he already works with singers of various experience levels, so he jumped at the chance to lead this new effort. “What I was hoping would happen, but even exceeded my expectations, was the diversity of the people,” Buchholz says. Everyone from professional-level singers to those who had never sung in a choir before joined together. Buchholz says one of the keys was to choose songs that were both accessible to those with little experience, and still fun for those with experience.
How often will it happen? Quarterly was originally the plan, but people keep asking about the next one, Lang says, so the Grand might plan them more often, maybe monthly. And they might experiment with different times and locations too.
It is a pop-up, after all.