Your Guide to Great Singing Opportunities in New York and Beyond, Part 2

Friends, family, acquaintances, and future friends,

In the article that follows, I have detailed occasions and events for communal singing in New York and beyond, most of which I have personally attended. Please email me if you know of others – benkramarz@gmail.com

Part 2: Secular Communal Singing Gatherings in New York

Exceedingly Good Song Night: https://www.facebook.com/groups/13654603782/

Meets: Sunday nights from around 6:00-11:00 pm; Once a month in Manhattan (usually the first Sunday of the month) and once a month in Brooklyn (usually the third Sunday of the month). Join the Facebook group to receive invites and details.
Place: Manhattan: Jimmy’s No 43, 43 E 7th Street. Brooklyn: Jalopy Theatre and School of Music, 315 Columbia St.
Style: Folk and traditional song sharing, often a cappella, sometimes with guitars and other string instruments.
Description from Organizers: Exceedingly Good Song Night is an open folksinging session, hosted more or less twice monthly by Ken [Schatz]. Bring your ears, bring your voice, bring instruments, bring friends! Singers and listeners are welcome. Each Song Night, we have a loose theme to encourage people to learn new songs and remember ones they haven't sung in a while. If you'd like to lead a song, look for a traditional / folk / roots song or two that somehow fits OUR THEME FOR THE EVENING: [Join Facebook group to received invites with themes and details].
My Description: Exceedingly Good Song Night is, as far as I know, the premier gathering for group singing in New York City (outside of a religious or school context). Begun nearly a decade ago by acting teacher and performance coach, Ken Schatz, “Song Night” draws dozens of people of all ages from around New York.

While Song Night varies in size and shape depending upon the venue and number of attendees, the program is essentially the same: Ken either picks people to lead songs or people volunteer to lead songs related (or often not related) to the theme of the evening, which is stated on the Facebook invite beforehand. Most people sing their chosen song a cappella and, if others know it, they will join in the chorus and some verses. Although a few people bring guitars and other instruments, the majority of songs are sung without accompaniment unless the leader plays an instrument or specifically asks those with instruments for accompaniment.

In general, most songleaders don’t break down songs to teach them. When other participants don’t know the song being led, the leader simply gives a solo performance while others listen attentively and supportively. Many of the songs shared at Song Night are found in the “Rise Up Singing” or “Rise Again” songbook. Others are more obscure folk or original songs whose origins vary widely. Sometimes, people will lead well-known American songs like “This Land is Your Land” or singable pop songs like “Hey Jude.”

Overall, Exceedingly Good Song Night is a great place to learn a wide variety of English language songs. Even though people can sing just about any song they like, there seems to be a core of songs that attendees know. While first time participants might be a little frustrated that they don’t know (and therefore can’t sing along with) many of the songs shared over the course of the evening, after attending a few times, they will likely find that they are able to join in on more and more songs.

Folk Open Sing, Hosted by the Folk Music Society of New York: http://www.folkmusicny.org/

Meets: First Wednesday of the month from 7:00-10:00 pm.
Place: Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, 53 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn. Email organizer Tom Weir for door code: folkmusic8@gmail.com.
Style: Folk and traditional song sharing, often a cappella, sometimes with guitars and other string instruments.
Description from Organizers: Join us on the first Wednesday of each month for a family-friendly open sing. Bring your voice, instruments, friends, neighbors, and children. Drop by for a couple of songs or the whole evening.
My Description: I discovered the Folk Open Sing in Brooklyn from a Google search, but most of the participants have known about and participated in this particular gathering for years. Unlike Exceedingly Good Song Night, which draws a diverse crowd from around New York, this gathering draws mostly people over the age of 50 from nearby neighborhoods. Typically, around 20 people attend. Although I was much younger than most of the other participants, I felt welcomed both times I attended.

The group is officially led by Tom Weir, but for the most part, songleading rotates around the circle with each participant leading a song. Usually, there is a break around 9:00 pm, after which some people leave and those remaining choose and lead songs popcorn style (anyone who wants to do a song jumps in and starts it).

The repertoire of the Folk Open Sing is similar to that of Exceedingly Good Song Night and there is some overlap in participants as well. Generally, 3-5 people with instruments join in to accompany on many songs. Whereas at Exceedingly Good Song Night, I have felt somewhat discouraged from playing guitar, at the Open Sing I felt quite encouraged to play along with any song I could.

Attending the Folk Open Sing, I feel like I have the opportunity to learn traditional songs from my elders. It is a great place for transmission of musical cultural, especially for young people who want to learn older songs.

Singing Events hosted by Brian Dolphin, myself, and others

Meets: Various times.
Place: All over New York, frequently in Brooklyn,
Style: Folk singing with instruments, folk singing a cappella, kumzitz/Jewish sing-along, Pop song singing.
Descriptions from organizers:
From Brian Dolphin’s last event: “Community Sing at A'yen's House”
We will gather to share songs and sounds, folk, original, of any sort. Songs where we can sing along are most appreciated. Instruments are great too but a cappella has a most egalitarian charm.
From my last event: “Singing for Justice, Singing for Unity”
Come gather round people wherever you roam! In these trying times, our voices are needed more than ever. We will be gathering at my house to sing songs of justice, peace, and unity (and whatever else we want to sing).
My Description: As you can probably tell by now, I am passionate about communal singing! This being the case, I seek out opportunities to sing with others whenever I can. In addition to the singing that happens at Shabbat meals in my little corner of Brooklyn, people of all different backgrounds and ages are gathering to sing around the city. While established events like the first two described in this article draw a primarily older crowd, Brian Dolphin, myself, and other likeminded individuals gather our peers (20-30 yr olds) in our homes and other informal settings to sing a variety of songs ranging from Irish ballads to Adele.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the event “Community Sing at A’yen’s House,” hosted by local musician A'yen Tran and led by Brian Dolphin, a CUNY ethnomusicology student and fine songleader with an extensive knowledge of a wide variety of traditional musics. I had met Brian through mutual friends at a similar sing-along he hosted a few months back and had been invited to this community sing via Facebook.

When I arrived at 5:30, there were a handful of people mulling about and preparing food. Brian was over by the couches with a few other musicians rehearsing a song about trumpet playing that the band was planning to perform later in the evening. Shortly after 6, they put the instruments away so that the singing could begin sans accompaniment. Unlike at other sings I have attended and those I host myself, at those Brian hosts he prefers to begin with no instruments and bring them in later.

At around 6:10, we started singing. Brian asked people to volunteer to lead songs with the hopes of getting a “stack” of people lined up to lead so he wouldn’t have to pressure people into leading on the spot. Overall, this strategy worked. Most people selected folk songs and many of them broke down their songs to teach line-by-line before diving in to sing them through. Others simply sang their songs and let others join in if they knew the song.

The crowd at this sing was mostly people in their 20s and 30s, with a few older people mixed in. At around 8 pm, we took a break from singing to get food and for the last part of the event, the house band performed a few songs and people who led songs were encouraged to use musical accompaniment. When the event started their were perhaps 15 people. By the end, the number was around 40!

In order to locate singing events led by individuals such as Brian and myself, you’ll need to know somebody who is connected to the group. If you'd like to hear about future "Brian & You" singing events hosted Brian Dolphin, you can email him at bridylph@gmail.com. Also, please be in touch with me so I can host you for a sing-along at my house or point you in the direction of another sing-along happening in the near future!

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