Though she sang all through high school and college, Kirsten Maltese had a hard time finding musical opportunities as an adult.
But then she moved to Denver last year and found Denver Choir League, a social singing club that meets at breweries, bars and restaurants around the city. Not only did Maltese, 32, find a group to sing with, but she also quickly found community in a new city.
“I’ve had something to do almost every Monday night since I moved here,” said Maltese, referring to the group’s weekly rehearsals. “My choir friends have also helped me professionally, helping me network as I look for a job here in Denver.”
You don’t have to audition to be part of Denver Choir League. You don’t even really have to know how to sing or read music (though it definitely helps). You just need to be friendly, enthusiastic about music and at least 21, since the rehearsals take place mostly in bars.
Katy Lushman, a high school choir teacher for Denver Public Schools, started the group in September 2018 because she wanted to create a space for people in their 20s, 30s and 40s to sing, socialize and get creative. (There’s no upper age limit for joining the group, though the majority of singers fall into that range, Lushman added).
“I was interested in what happened for students after they left my high school choir classroom,” said Lushman, 36. “What I was finding was that a lot of students weren’t continuing to sing, especially after college.”
Sure, there are plenty of community choirs around the Front Range. But Lushman wanted to create a more social group that was flexible enough to fit into young professionals’ busy schedules. Inspired by a group created by a friend in Cincinnati called the Young Professionals Choral Collective, Lushman started teaching part-time last year so she could get her dream off the ground.
The group has grown from 60 singers when Lushman first launched it to 130 singers today. The musicians meet for roughly two hours every Monday evening during an eight-week rehearsal cycle. That way, if someone can’t make rehearsals in the fall because of their child’s football schedule, for example, they can hop back on board during the spring.
“It’s clear to me that people are just really craving an experience where they can come together with people in the same room — not online, not over their phones — and create something,” Lushman said.
Another benefit? Lushman is helping out local businesses that would normally be pretty dead on Monday nights. As a perk, many of the bars offer happy hour pricing all night long for the group’s rehearsals. Appropriately, Lushman has dubbed Denver Choir League “a drinking group with a singing problem” and “the happy hour choir for Gen XYZ.”
Here’s how a typical rehearsal plays out:
Singers start arriving around 5:45 or 6 p.m., then grab a beer and maybe some dinner from a food truck. They socialize until 6:30 p.m., then set out their folding chairs for rehearsal. (Lushman provides every new member with his or her own chair, since most bars don’t just have 130 chairs sitting around.)
Lushman leads the group through various vocal warm-ups and then they get down to business, practicing songs for a performance at the end of the rehearsal cycle. An hour or so into rehearsal, there’s usually a break so that everyone can refresh their drinks.
“It’s pretty similar to a normal choir rehearsal that anyone who sang in high school or college would be familiar with,” Lushman says. “The difference for us is that people have a beer in their hand.”
Drinks aside, the group takes its music very seriously. The choir sings traditional choral music, though Lushman often adds in a little twist. For an upcoming show at Improper City on Nov. 3, for instance, the choir is partnering with a DJ and adding in some songs by Dolly Parton and Stevie Wonder. The group has also collaborated with a visual artist who painted in response to the music, as the group sang.
“I’m always looking for ways to circumvent expectations about choir music or about what a choir concert is,” Lushman said.
The group is also helping long-time musicians get outside their comfort zones. Lizabeth Barnett, a Denver middle school choir teacher, has been singing in choirs for nearly all of her life, and yet, she’s never experienced anything quite like Denver Choir League.
“It’s really pushing my boundaries,” said Barnett, 45. “Can I sing in a distillery? Can I sing chamber music with people who don’t really know how to read it? Can I sing with a DJ? What is that even about?”
Plus, she’s having fun.
“It’s such a low-pressure environment, and there’s a real joy there,” said Barnett. “There are a lot of people in the group who either haven’t sung since they were kids or have maybe never sung, and their joy is infectious.”
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, In The Know, to get entertainment news sent straight to your inbox.