Music News

Denver Choir League: A Drinking Group with a Singing Problem

DCL performing their Christmas Carol Crawl at Ratio Brewery in 2019.
DCL performing their Christmas Carol Crawl at Ratio Brewery in 2019. Courtesy of Katy Lushman
North High School teacher Katy Lushman has always loved singing in choirs and drinking at happy hour. In 2018, she brought the two activities together and formed the Denver Choir League. In the years since, more than 400 people have sung, drunk and bonded together as part of her group.

If people love to sing, they're welcome, no matter how talented, studied or experienced they are.

“Denver Choir League welcomes anyone who wants to sing in a choir,” Lushman says. “We know that auditions can be really intimidating and that sometimes singers are discouraged from even trying to join a choir because there’s an audition. The beautiful thing about choir is that it’s not about you as a solo singer, but about the group.

“There are lots of great choirs in the Denver metro area, but as a high school teacher, I felt there weren’t very many options for singing that would fit the lifestyle of people like my former students,” she continues. “While some people want a more serious or formal singing environment, I knew there were a lot of singers out there who weren’t musicians for a living but wanted to keep singing as adults and didn’t want a huge time commitment.”
click to enlarge Denver Choir League at Red Rocks for its show with Twiddle and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. - COURTESY OF KATY LUSHMAN
Denver Choir League at Red Rocks for its show with Twiddle and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.
Courtesy of Katy Lushman
The members of the Choir League span a wide range of ages and experience levels. Some sang in high school or college choirs; for others, this is their first choral experience. A singer's first eight-week cycle costs $120; cycles cost $95 each after that, and scholarships are available. The fees pay for sheet music, drink tickets, Choir League swag and, oddly enough, a folding chair.

“Because we’re always in different bars and breweries, we can’t count on the venue to have 150-plus chairs available for our rehearsals,” Lushman says. “So, when you join DCL, we give you a black IKEA folding chair that’s yours forever. When you break it down, for less than you would pay for a drop-in yoga class, you get a two-hour rehearsal, drink specials, happy hours with new friends, and a great musical experience each week!”

The choir usually practices for eight weeks ahead of performances, which typically take place at Denver bars, breweries and restaurants; the singers have wowed crowds at Little Man Ice Cream, Union Station, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, Diebolt Brewing and more. They’ve even had a chance to perform with bands including Twiddle and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at Red Rocks and 3OH!3 at the Mission Ballroom, and during Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanic Gardens. 

“As a millennial from Colorado, the gig with 3OH!3 was very memorable,” says Whitney Bradford, a Denver Choir League alto, who joined in January 2019 after taking vocal lessons for six years. “Performing at Red Rocks was crazy. Definitely not something I ever thought I would get to do. I remember not being able to sleep that night because I was so full of adrenaline.”

Tom Tafoya, a Denver Choir League tenor who joined in August 2019 and has sung in other Colorado choirs such as Harmony: A Colorado Chorale and Voices Rock, recalls singing with the Louisville band ELMR, a group of four songwriters. “At the first rehearsal we had with them, there was an instant connection between them and the choir,” Tafoya says. “We sang the first arrangement that they had done of their music with Katy, and by the time we sang the last note, the whole room was in tears. It was the most powerful, soulful experience you can imagine. I’ll never forget that night.”
click to enlarge Soloist Carlie Kolrud and Denver Choir League singing at the Turntables and Tunes concert. - COURTESY OF KATY LUSHMAN
Soloist Carlie Kolrud and Denver Choir League singing at the Turntables and Tunes concert.
Courtesy of Katy Lushman
Before the pandemic, Samantha DeBey, who has led the choir's alto section for two years and teaches music in the Douglas County schools, likes the variety of venues and the participants' innate love of music, but she's also enjoyed more recent online offerings.

“For a non-audition choir, [Katy] truly has a way to make us all sound in sync and collaborate with each other,” DeBey says. “We’ve been holding virtual rehearsals and have been adding additional classes that members can attend virtually, such as yoga, baking and vocal technique and music theory.”

Maggie Masciarelli, a middle-school music teacher who has led the Denver Choir League's soprano section for a year, had a chance to teach a virtual class to her fellow singers.

“We added my sight-reading class along with some other classes the section leaders taught,” Masciarelli says. “Other DCL members also gave virtual TED Talks, teaching their own personal skills like baking, gardening, brewing and more. It was a nice way to stay connected.”

Although it will take some time before the Choir League can gather face-to-face in bars again, Lushman and crew have a busy 2021 in the works.

“We are planning to do another virtual cycle from February to April to round out this season,” Lushman says. “We want to keep everyone safe. Even though it’s not the same, it’s still great to see everyone, sing music and connect with each other.” 

For their part, the members remain loyal to Lushman and her vision of music and fun.

“[Katy] pretty much has me wrapped around her little finger,” Tafoya concludes. “She could be like, ‘Hey, Tom, I was wondering if you’d be willing to sit in a rattlesnake pit for a DCL promotion,’ and I’d reply, ‘What time do you want me to be there?’”

For more information or to join the Denver Choir League, visit its website.
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Khaleel Hayes is a writer and journalist who graduated from MSU Denver in 2018. His body of work includes profiles, film reviews, poetry, short plays and photography.
Contact: Khaleel Hayes