Now Or Never

'I didn't even open my mouth to sing until I was 35': In this Toronto choir, everyone is welcome

The Jumblies Theatre Ground Floor Choir welcomes everyone, regardless of experience or singing ability.
The Jumblies Theatre Ground Floor Choir at their downtown Toronto rehearsal space. (CBC/ Jess Shane)

Singing can be intimidating, especially if at some point in your life you've been told not to sing, or that you don't have 'a good voice'. But Shifra Cooper, director of the Jumblies Theatre Ground Floor Choir, believes that everyone can sing.

The Ground Floor Choir has an open door policy — a wide open-door policy. This winter alone, Shifra welcomed ten new singers to the group, who joined after walking past the window and hearing the choir rehearsing.

This choir welcomes people with all levels of singing experience; and from all different ages. Some of its singers are in poverty or living with disability, but the choir provides supports like free on-site childcare and bus tokens, to make sure everyone can be there.

These days, the choir is working on a series of original music to be performed at an event called Round the Table later this year. We spoke with some of its singers to discover how singing is an important part of their lives:

(CBC/ Jess Shane)

"Until recently I was not able to get up and talk to a group of people. Now I actually will sing on my way to work. So if you see somebody walking in the streets of downtown Toronto singing, it might be me!"

Sandra Kanagasabai

(CBC/ Jess Shane)

"The sum of the parts is more than the whole. It's like a bag full of rocks. You don't know what kind of rocks they are. And that's the thing about a choir. So you miss a couple of beats, so what? Then you kick back in and see what you can do."

John Norkis

(CBC/ Jess Shane)

"The more I open up and feel vulnerable, the better it will sound."

Shelley La Hay

(CBC/ Jess Shane)

"Pushing and challenging without competitive expectations is, I think, transformative. I've seen people be transformed by it."

Shifra Cooper, choir director

(CBC/ Jess Shane)

"Singing it's just like you're in a different place. That's what I love about music. It's like no one can judge you when you're in a group."

Tamoya Thomas

(CBC/ Jess Shane)

Bruno: "Singing makes me feel great because I get to express my feelings."

Ariana: "I love it. I like snacks that they have."

Siblings Bruno and Ariana Santisteban.

To learn more about, join, or see the Jumblies Theatre Ground Floor Choir in action, check out Jumblies' website. The music featured in this piece will be performed as part of an event called Round the Table in March.

Music credits featured in this story:

"Here's To You"

Composed by: Daev Clysdale

Lyrics: Text from community choir members

"Soup Round: Ingredients"

Composed by: Alex Eddington

Lyrics: Inspired by an interview with Marianne Alas, conducted by Liz Rucker and Keith McNair​

"Dinner Party"

Composed by: Keith McNair

Lyrics: Inspired by an interview with Celeste, Minai and Cheri, conducted by Liz Rucker

Performed by the Jumblies Theatre Ground Floor Choir in partnership with Making Room Community Arts and MABELLEarts. Directed by Shifra Cooper with accompaniment from Emilyn Stam.