It feels really good to sing. And there’s actually science behind this statement, because the act of singing releases endorphins, the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals. But for whatever reason, and despite the enduring popularity of karaoke, singing in situations where others will hear you is often only socially sanctioned if one has a demonstrably “good voice.”
And this is not the way it needs to be, according to composer and arranger Debbie Lan. The Cape Town, South Africa native has been a part of the Hudson Valley music scene since 1992, performing and recording with Robbie Dupree, Artie Traum, John Hall, Dog on Fleas and others while recording two award-winning CDs of original Cape Town-inspired, family-friendly music with her band, Grenadilla. And Lan’s pop opera, On a Midsummer’s Night, adapted from Shakespeare and for which she wrote the libretto and 60 pieces of music, debuted last year at the Rosendale Theatre. Lan has also founded and directed a number of different community voice ensembles over recent years, including Bloom, a 33-member women’s ensemble and the B2s, a smaller nine-voice group.
Her latest endeavor is SongClub, an interactive drop-in experience created for people who would like to try singing in a choir but don’t have the time for an ongoing commitment or who don’t think they can sing. Following a vocal warmup, participants are split into three groups – low voices, middle voices and high voices – and with a provided lyric sheet, learn an original arrangement of a well-known pop, folk, rock or traditional song. In the space of two hours, everyone (regardless of prior singing experience) will have mastered the song in three-part harmony. After a final practice run, the song is performed and videotaped, then posted on YouTube.
Lan’s choice of material for the group to sing is fun, and a bit eclectic: songs that are well-known but aren’t the obvious choices. For example, she taught the group the Beatles song “You Won’t See Me,” a gem from the Rubber Soul album but not often heard. SongClub also learned “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen and “End of the Line” by the Traveling Wilburys, among other tunes.
SongClub with Debbie Lan will be held at the Reformed Church of New Paltz at 92 Huguenot Street on Friday, May 31 from 7 to 9 p.m. There is a $10 fee at the door, but no one is turned away due to lack of funds. They’ll be performing Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” in honor of Pride Week. Feel free to wear rainbow-hued clothing.
There are also two more events to come in a Sunday series at Marbletown Multi-Arts (MaMA) at 3588 Main Street in Marbletown. SongClub will be held on Sunday, June 9 from 3 to 5 p.m. and Sunday, July 14 from 3 to 5 p.m.
Anyone who wishes to participate is welcome. Lan is known for her relaxed and welcoming teaching style that helps break down any barriers of nerves or fear of singing in public. Lan said that it has been “amazing to see the joy and delight” that people experience in SongClub. “For the past 12 years I have been running adult community voice ensembles, and what I’ve discovered is that almost everyone really loves to sing. Most of us feel we’re not really singers, or perhaps we were told at a very young age that we can’t sing, or shouldn’t sing, and so we withdraw our voices, most often singing in the car or shower, wishing we could ‘really’ sing. And yet so many of us just haven’t learned how to connect our ears to our voice.”
And that, she adds, is a teachable skill. “One of my favorite things is watching folks come into the room a little fearful at first, with shallow breath and the idea that they’re somehow not ‘good enough.’ And within an hour of singing and breathing and sharing laughter with their new community of singers, they’ve forgotten their fears, and sing with smiling faces and relaxed, open hearts and bodies. And by the end of the evening we’re all feeling so good, so connected and relaxed, it’s hard to imagine we were ever afraid of our voices to begin with.”
SongClub with Debbie Lan, Friday, May 31, 7-9 p.m., $10 suggested, Reformed Church of New Paltz, 92 Huguenot St., New Paltz; Sundays, June 9 & 14, 3-5 p.m., Marbletown Multi-Arts, 3588 Main St., Marbletown; (845) 687-6090.