This Portland Chorus Wants You to Belt Radiohead and Rihanna from the Roof

The OK Chorale, formed earlier this year, is a drop-in pop chorus open to all. On August 22, you're invited to a Revolution Hall rooftop sing-along.

By Rebecca Jacobson August 18, 2016

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The OK Chorale, upstairs in Revolution Hall's Assembly Lounge

On a recent Monday evening, about 45 adults have gathered upstairs at Revolution Hall. It’s a sensible-shoes-and-quirky-glasses crowd, most in their 40s or 50s, and they’re sipping on IPAs and plastic glasses of rosé—and belting out Fleetwood Mac.

Thunder only happens when it’s raining
Players only love you when they’re playing
Say, women they will come and they will go
When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know
You’ll know

Some close their eyes. Others pat their hearts. It’s loud. It's earnest. And it sounds pretty good.

This is the OK Chorale, a drop-in chorus that gathers to croon pop songs from their youth, and a few from today’s charts—no commitment or singing skills required. The group is the brainchild of Live Wire! founder and former producer Kate Sokoloff, who says it all started with David Bowie. After the death of the pop icon, she saw a video of a massive community choir in Toronto singing “Space Oddity.”

“It just broke my heart," Sokoloff says, "and all I could think was, I want to do that."

So she did. Through her connections as a producer, and with the power of social media, Sokoloff pulled together a Bowie sing-along at OMSI’s planetarium in early April of this year. All 200 tickets sold out. There were lots of face-painted lightning bolts. One 70-something man showed up in a white pantsuit and silver disco boots.

In the run-up to the performance, Sokoloff organized optional rehearsals.

“By the end, I had people clawing at me and crying and being like, ‘We need to keep this going!’” she says. “And it wasn’t because of David Bowie. It was because they didn’t know it was fun to sing.”

The OK Chorale was formed. Now, the group meets every other Monday in Revolution Hall’s Assembly Lounge, among the world maps and anatomical charts, to sing the likes of the Cure, Radiohead, Pharrell Williams, the Beatles, Eagles, and Rihanna. They tackle two songs per week, with time to refill their pints and socialize between tunes. Multi-instrumentalist Ben Landsverk serves as music director, making the mysteries of harmony comprehensible to the tone-deaf and answering questions about E-notes from former choir savants. Sokoloff likens Landsverk to a mom, and it’s true—standing at the front of the room in his khaki cargo shorts and Keen sandals, he’s unfailingly encouraging of his flock. (One choir member whispered to me that Landsverk also reminds her of the Muppet Rowlf the Dog.)

“Enthusiasm is the name of the game,” Landsverk says. “I’m amazed at how many people who think they can’t sing actually can.”

On Monday, August 22, the OK Chorale hosts its first big event since the Bowie tribute: this time, a sing-along on the Revolution Hall rooftop. They’ll hand out songbooks and let attendees—their voices trained by car radios, record players, or draconian church choir directors—have at it. Landsverk and Wonderly bandmate Jim Brunberg, founder of Mississippi Studios and co-owner of Revolution Hall, will perform a few songs as well.  

Sokoloff promises a loose format and hearty welcome. “There are no solos,” she says. “The whole thing is to break down the fear that singing is only for people who have talent. None of us have talent—we just sound better together. It should be really dorky and fun. And alcohol helps.

The OK Chorale's Rooftop Sing-along is at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug 22 at Revolution Hall. $10. For more info, visit the OK Chorale's website.

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