The irony of a city is that it often plays host to loneliness. One Birmingham group is dedicated to connecting locals, voice by voice.
The Magic City Choral Society (MCCS) is a community-based nonprofit that provides a choral singing opportunity for any male or female above the age of 18.
“I have experienced a profound sense of belonging since joining MCCS. This is a group that accepts me the way that I am and nurtures me and provides me an outlet to share my joy of life through music and song,” says Travis Harell, a member of the altruistic group. “I feel I am part of a family and have the support of my fellow singers and musicians to help me face anything that comes my way.”
The MCSS was begun in 2007 by a collection of the musically inclined, led by Dr. Paul Dease, an educator and conductor of choral music and a native of Dothan.
Originally, MCCS was intended to be an all-male group — the Birmingham Gay Men’s Chorus. That changed, however, when organizers realized that others could enjoy the experience as well, and that there was a greater need for an all-inclusive adult chorus group, which could potentially grow and better meet the needs of the community.
MCCS is different than any other chorus in the Birmingham metro area. “What distinguishes us from any other group is that we are un-auditioned. Anybody can come and sing,” says Dease. Any person in search of a choral experience is welcome, regardless of prior knowledge or skill level. “Every group in town is ‘audition,’ which means a lot of people are being left out of this profound experience. It’s a communal experience, a thing that we get to do together. But the art experience itself — the feeling of being in this sheer wall of sound together — there are people being left out of it,” says Dease.
The reason behind this audition-free idea is somewhat remarkable. “Music is a human behavior, and human behaviors can be observed. If you can observe it, then you can describe it. And if you can describe it, then you can teach it. It’s really that simple.” Dease is taking normal people and educating them to sing in a way that produces a professional sound.
This theory has proven to be so effective over the past six years that, due to the drastic improvement in skill sets within the group, MCCS is now able to perform three to four concerts a year instead of their previous maximum of only two. In addition to the concerts, MCCS also puts on three annual fundraisers — a Halloween party, a Masquerade and the Summer Soiree — which help fund the group during its slower season.
The MCCS is also very distinctive in its chosen performance material. Seemingly devoid of any limitations regarding musical genre, the group performs everything from western classical to pop. Included in the MCCS repertoire at the most recent concert, Pop Goes the Culture — a concert performed in collaboration with the Red Mountain Chamber Orchestra —were renditions of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Fix You” by Coldplay. At the opposite end of the musical spectrum, MCCS also enjoys performing pieces such as Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on this Shining Night.”
Just because MCCS is a non-auditioning group does not mean its members are lacking in dedication or effort. This unique experience does require hard work from those involved — hard work that seems to be paying off. “Each choir rehearses two hours a week. And then the week before a performance, they are at rehearsal every night for about three hours. “
The MCCS has also been known to organize flash mobs. A couple of years ago around Christmastime, the group was invited to treat the holiday shoppers at Saks to a surprise concert. As throngs of vocalists filled the cosmetics department, people stopped what they were doing, filed in from outside, and eagerly listened as MCCS — with the help of other local choral groups — spread holiday cheer throughout.
“Choral music doesn’t just touch the performer’s life, it touches the people who hear it,” Dease says.
Among the group’s performances so far this year have been those for Earth Day and the Feast of St. Aelred. “We try to sing for organizations that share our values. Our mission statement is ‘creating an inclusive community of singers and supporters, united around the performance of choral music that educates, entertains and inspires,’” says Dease.
Although MCCS is always looking for opportunities to grow and become more, Dease also believes that it is important for them to stick to their roots. “Originally we were born out of the LBGT community here in Birmingham, and we want to make sure that we celebrate all human beings, regardless of where they come from, how much money they have, who they love.”
Because MCCS is a nonprofit organization, dependent upon the support of the surrounding community for success, MCCS feels it is imperative to give back; all concerts are free of charge. This professional-grade entertainment is simply for the enjoyment of its fans. “There was a need,” says Dease. “As a professional, I want to fan those same flames in other people. I want them to have that same transformative experience.”
The next event on this year’s calendar for MCCS is the annual Summer Soiree fundraiser, which is to be held on June 28 at Avondale Villa. Dease describes the event as a lighthearted summertime ‘fun’-raiser, complete with performances of tunes by the Beach Boys, silent and live auctions, great food and bottomless piña coladas.
Dease and MCCS are literally — and figuratively — trying to reach the other side of the mountain. “Who are we?” Dease asks. “We are every man and every woman’s chorus.”