photos: Folk singer Jenny Ritter had never sung in a choir before she started her own. Photo: Adrick Brock

The many choirs of Jenny Ritter

The founder of the Kingsgate Chorus shares her inspiration for bringing people together to sing.

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Before starting the Kingsgate Chorus, Jenny Ritter had never sung in a choir before. When Ritter’s long-time band, The Gruff, ended in 2011, Ritter confessed to a few friends that she really missed singing vocal harmonies with her old group. The friends came up with an idea: they would meet in Ritter’s Mount Pleasant living room and she would teach them how to harmonize.
Eight people came to the first singing lesson in January 2011.

“I lived in a basement apartment,” Ritter remembers, “and it was pretty full.” The following week, 16 people crammed into the tiny space.

It wasn’t long before the group became Ritter’s first choir called the Kingsgate Chorus, a nod to the enigmatic Mount Pleasant mall down the street from her home.

Eventually the waiting list to join the Kingsgate choir grew so long that Ritter decided to quit her coffee shop job and start a second choir, the Mount Pleasant Regional Institute of Sound (MPRIS, for short).

As a choir mistress (her words), Ritter has arranged songs by Bon Iver, Radiohead, Timber Timbre, Lorde, and Kate Bush, to name a few.

“I pick songs that I obsessively love,” she says. “The challenge in arranging songs is to keep the energy of the original while still making it our own.”

Ritter cites Bjork’s “Unravel” as her proudest arrangement, but her all-time favourite choir song is the first one she arranged in that long- ago basement apartment, Bruce Springsteen’s “Going Down.”

“Every time I hear it,” she says, “I can still remember the magic of those harmonies coming together for the first time.”

It’s that same magic that makes Ritter’s choirs so popular. With all
 the interest she receives for Kingsgate and MPRIS, Ritter says she could
start as many as four new choirs.

She chalks up their popularity to a widespread need for space and outlets in which to express ourselves. “We have to be really well-behaved a lot of the time,” she laments. “We don’t necessarily have our physical and emotional and artistic outlets.”

A sense of friendship and inclusiveness is something Ritter thinks everyone can benefit from. “There’s often a lack of community in people’s lives. We want 
to feel like we’re a part of something, building something, being useful, as well as having fun. Choir provides that.”

Over the years, Ritter’s choirs have performed at music festivals, community events, and as opening acts for artists like Rae Spoon and Wintermitts.

In October 2014, the Kingsgate Chorus
 was invited to sing at a TedxVancouver event. More recently, the two choirs sang
in a holiday fundraiser that drew in more than 500 people. Proceeds from the night (an impressive $1,900) were donated to two local non-profits. Ritter has her eyes set on raising even more money in 2015. She looks forward to collaborating with local artists and performing in more gigs around the city.

The challenge, she says, is balancing the choir work with her own career as a solo folk musician.

“Looking back,” she says, “I couldn’t imagine the popularity of the choirs. It wasn’t something I was thinking of or aiming for but when it happened 
it was no surprise at all. It felt very natural. It was supposed to happen."

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