PopUp split-up: Founders of Durham chorus institution part ways | Music

PopUp split-up: Founders of Durham chorus institution part ways

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Derek Bird and his daughter, Zoë, rehearse Passion Pit's "Sleepyhead" at a recent PopUp Chorus. - FILE PHOTO BY JUSTIN COOK
  • File photo by Justin Cook
  • Derek Bird and his daughter, Zoë, rehearse Passion Pit's "Sleepyhead" at a recent PopUp Chorus.
Roughly a year and a half after helping to launch PopUp Chorus—an open chorus based in Durham, and a certifiable hit—conductor Seamus Kenney announced he’ll be leaving to start a chorus of his own, with an emphasis on local and independent music as well as original songs written by the artists who will run it.

Beginning with only a handful of members in January 2014, PopUp Chorus’s numbers and reputation swelled as word spread. As the project grew, it was always of two minds. Kenney’s musical choices leaned toward music outside the mainstream, while Lauren Hodge, who runs the Community Chorus Project and owns and organizes PopUp Chorus, favored a more inclusive play list.

“We have had some creative differences from the beginning,” she says. “Seamus leans more towards current indie songs, while I lean more towards better known songs, across genres, that will connect with a wide variety of people. I am sure that you spotted a weekly formula that worked to accommodate both.” 

That formula meant bills with a bifurcated sensibility, typified by an event that paired a song by The Postal Service with one by Taylor Swift. On the other hand, a lineup featuring songs by Madonna and Michael Jackson brought in 236 people—their biggest attendance yet. Hodge was thrilled with the result. Kenney was not. “It was feeling too much like a wedding sing-along,” he said in March during an interview for an INDY feature.

Since then, the push and pull has continued: The group’s final meeting until fall featured indie psych-poppers Foxygen, along with the most popular song of the spring, “Uptown Funk.” Something had to give.

Like PopUp Chorus, Kenney’s as-yet-unnamed group will meet weekly on a no-audition basis. It will differ both in its musical sensibility and by featuring a unique theme for each event. Kenney’s creative team will consist of guitarist Dave Yarwood, who has been part of the chorus’ instrumental lineup since the beginning, graphic artist Kerri Lockwood and Ross Gruet, who will serve as the program manager. Kenney expects to add other musicians, filmmakers and even dancers to the team in the weeks and months ahead.

Both Kenney and Hodge seem positive about ending their run together.

“I am very proud of the sense of community that PopUp Chorus has fostered,” Kenney says. “I appreciate that Lauren Hodge and The Community Chorus Project took a chance on my idea and helped make it become a reality.”

Hodge was philosophical in her reaction. “Good art is always fluid, not static," she says. "It will be onwards and upwards for both of us, and for the many people who we have hopefully reminded that they love to sing."


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