You Gotta Sing!

Photo by Rebecca Clarke

You gotta sing, sing, sing, sing, sing out loud
Don’t you dare hold nothin’ back (~ Serena Ryder)

Ninety singers belted out these words on June 23, 2013, at United Memorial Church in Halifax. They didn’t hold anything back as they performed songs in English, French, Spanish and Xhosa. The entire audience stood as the choir sang N’Kosi Sikelel i’ Afrika (the Tanzanian, Zambian and a portion of the South African national anthem). Spectators bobbed their heads to a beatboxer, stomped their feet to a guest fiddler, chair-danced to tunes accompanied by the drums and even sang along to an upbeat barbershop-style version of Amazing Grace. Admission to the concert was a freewill donation which garnered $3000 for the Stephen Lewis’ Foundation Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign.

The singers, men and women of all different ages and choral experiences, call themselves the You Gotta Sing CHORUS, a community choir founded and directed by Vanessa Lindsay-Botten.

“I wanted something that was going to get a life of its own where people would come and really find a home in the singing community of You Gotta Sing," says Lindsay-Botten. "And also that there would be a bursary that would make just being part of something like this totally possible for anyone…And that we could make some real positive change in the community around us by using our concerts purely for fundraising and for local and global initiatives.”

“Singing in choirs was like a home for me...”

A professional Soprano, pianist, Celtic harpist and music teacher, Lindsay-Botten remembers
Vanessa Lindsay-Botten,
Director and Founder of You Gotta Sing! CHORUS 

(Photo by Alison Beckett)
being captivated by music from the time she was four years old when she would see and hear her older sister “pressing the piano keys”. All through elementary, middle and high school, as well as university, Lindsay-Botten sang in choirs. “Singing in choirs was like a home for me and I made so many friends that I have to this day,” she recalls.

While doing her Masters at York University, Lindsay-Botten studied ethno-musicology and one of her focuses was “voice and identity and how we express ourselves or not through our voices.” She started attending song circles led by Victoria Moon Joyce. “Her focus was adult education and how singing was really important as a community activity—that it should be open and accessible to all,” explains Lindsay-Botten. “That was probably my first kind of light going on—the possible marriage of my commitment to singing and music with making it accessible and finding the avenues of making sure all would be welcome and invited into this amazing experience of singing together.”

Around this same time, Lindsay-Botten recalls watching a documentary that happened to be on television (Sing!: Healing Community, Celebration). This introduced her to Shivon Robinsong and Denis Donnelly, who lead the Gettin’ Higher Choir in Victoria BC, a 300-member community choir. Robinsong and Donnelly ended up being her mentors (Lindsay-Botten attended their Community Choir Leadership Training Program) and they helped shape her vision to start her HRM-based chorus.

Lindsay-Botten created the You Gotta Sing CHORUS in the summer of 2011. It has grown from 19 singers meeting in one location to this past season there being 110 active singers meeting in four locations (with an additional 100 alumni). In two years, the chorus has raised a total of $2,300 for Phoenix and over $5,000 for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. It has also performed a number of community concerts, including the Multicultural Festival and for seniors at both the Northwood Community Centre and at Parkland Clayton Park.

“I really feel so strongly that there needs to be a really safe space where people can come and just step their toe into the world of singing or dive right in and know that they’re supported…”

“I think that You Gotta Sing is filling a need for people who want to sing for the fun of it, and may have a lot of musical background or may have very little,” says Lindsay-Botten. So the idea of not having to audition makes people feel at ease and feel welcome, that they can step in and just start singing. They don’t have to feel that they’ll be judged or critiqued or have that fear of not being accepted. A lot of us have musical wounding from childhood or adulthood and it can be a very vulnerable thing to do—to take one’s voice into a choir. I really feel so strongly that there needs to be a really safe space where people can come and just step their toe into the world of singing or dive right in and know that they’re supported…It’s the whole thing of being together. That beautiful sounding harmony is really possible just by listening and trusting and knowing that we’re all in it together.”

You Gotta Sing’s summer season is about to begin and runs from July 8/9/10 until August 12/13/14 with practices being offered at five different locations spread out across HRM. Interested singers can even drop in the first week of rehearsals to register. Choristers are always welcome to attend as many sessions each week as they would like.

When the fall season kicks off, Lindsay-Botten will be adding an additional component to her five-practice/week itinerary: “We Are Family” sessions will be held Mondays from 4 to 5:30pm for parents and their kids, as well as for anyone who wants to be part of an intergenerational community.  ~ AE

For more information on the You Gotta Sing! CHORUS, visit:

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