In January 2020, Voices Rock was flying high. The no-audition community choir, which got its start in Northeast Denver in 2014, had expanded to seven choirs that stretched across the city and out to Littleton, Louisville, and Vail. The choir had performed at Red Rocks, at a Rockies game, at TEDxCherryCreek, and at sold-out shows in large theaters throughout the city. Nothing, it seemed, could stop the rock-n-roll energy of this merry band of singers.
And then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. “It was devastating for all of us,” says co-founder and Musical Director Jill Teas. “We had worked relentlessly to get all of these choirs up and running, and then we had to shut everything down.” Teas held rehearsals over Zoom—with everybody muting themselves because of the audio delay. “We felt we had a responsibility to keep people together and hopeful and joyful at a time when we were all having to isolate.”
Anna Kaye, executive director of Voices Rock, says those virtual rehearsals became a lifeline for people. “For many members, this choir is a central part of their lives. We began each Zoom rehearsal with a check-in to see how people were coping. Some people volunteered to drop off meals for others. It really brought out the best in everyone.”
Soon the choir members were applying pressure to gather in-person for rehearsals, even though doing so required them to rehearse outside. Folding chairs, heat lamps, and blankets were brought by members. “We were on rooftops, courtyards, parking lots, backyards. You name it, we did it,” says Teas with a laugh.
Now, nearly three years later, Voices Rock is back rehearsing indoors while planning for its December 11 concert. The organization has scaled back a bit—currently there are four adult choirs with 275 members and one children’s choir with 50 singers—but the energy and enthusiasm have never been stronger.
At a recent rehearsal, Teas was a whirling dynamo—leading the choristers through warm-ups and songs. The members are a diverse mix: some have had formal music training, others had only sung in their shower before joining. “It never ceases to amaze me where we start and where we end up. It’s never short of a miracle every single session,” says Teas. “These are amateur singers, but we put on a pretty professional show and it comes together in ways that even the singers can’t imagine initially.”
Kaye says she joined the choir shortly after moving to Denver eight years ago. “I had no music background. I was raising two children. My husband was traveling and I was feeling very isolated. And then I saw a post about a rock choir.” Kaye went to check out a rehearsal. “After the hour, I knew that I was going to be okay in Denver. I had found my people.” A year later, she became the executive director to help the choir expand.
Both Teas and Kaye say Voices Rock has been successful largely because of the strong sense of community the choir has developed. “Our rehearsals are straight-up fun. We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Teas. “And it all starts with people getting out of their comfort zone.”
“We’re coming together and doing something together,” says Kaye. “In this fractured world, for people to be able to raise their voices in song with people from all different backgrounds just feels good.”
Real estate agent and choir member Mary Gerwin agrees. “The choir has been a lifeline for me. I’m in a 24/7 business and deal with lots of stress—as we all do. I go into these rehearsals exhausted, but I come out exhilarated. It’s the best medicine you could ask for.” Gerwin not only sings with the large adult choir but is also a member of a smaller group called the Supplementals, which performs for smaller civic and charity events. All of the choirs sing music that is accessible to broad audiences, including rock, pop, country, and show tunes.
One of the choirs that Kaye regards as critical is VR2, the choir for children in grades 3-8. “Arts in schools have been cut back so dramatically. Kids need to sing. If ever there’s a group that needs to find its voice, it’s young people.” VR2 draws students from 19 different schools across the city.
Ten-year-old Meg Nichols says she loves singing with VR2 because everyone has been so welcoming and supportive. “I have brittle bone disease which means I get around in a wheelchair. A lot of times when I go places, people just stare at me, but everyone in the choir has accepted me.” At an open-air Voices Rock concert this spring, she belted out a solo for “Let It Be” by the Beatles. “It was very scary but it was also exciting… Music makes me feel special, like I can do anything,” says Nichols.
Melissa Goldstein has three daughters who have all been involved with VR2 and Voices Rock. She agrees that the choir helps foster confidence among singers of all ages and she gives a special shout-out to the leadership of Teas. “Jill is so incredible on so many levels. She knows how to bring the best out of someone and how to tap into skills and abilities that people didn’t even realize they had.”
Both Teas and Kaye say they are asked all the time whether Voices Rock will expand to other parts of the country. For right now, they are concentrating on their existing choirs in Denver. “We are always open to and looking for opportunities to bring Voices Rock to new places. We hire our directors carefully and would love to find more people to lead new groups.” Both Teas and Kaye know that there’s a need for this kind of choir in every community across the country and they hope to eventually help fill that void.
For more information about the Voices Rock choirs and their December 11 concert, visit www.VoicesRockDenver.com.