Not many of us feel comfortable singing in front of others, let alone strangers, but that's not going to stop the NISA Choir (Northern Initiative for Social Action) from doing what they love.
The choir performed at Kuppajoe Espresso Bar this past Saturday, Dec. 7, spreading holiday cheer to those in attendance as part of the afternoon's Downtown Sudbury Art Crawl.
This is the second year the peer-run mental health organization has been awarded funding from the Ontario Arts Council and municipal Arts and Culture grant, allowing them to host the choir's second season.
The majority of choir participants are patrons of NISA, aside from Audrey O'Brien, NISA communication and strategy coordinator, and one other member of the executive team.
O'Brien wouldn't consider herself a singer, she told Sudbury.com, but said she was inspired to participate for the first time this year to explore a new side of herself.
She found the experience incredibly rewarding, especially during a time when weather conditions cause many to experience symptoms of seasonal depression.
"I find myself going home signing, humming and just keeping spirits a little higher," she said.
Most importantly, O'Brien said the group helped her better understand that you don't "have to be this professional, established version of yourself in order to do something you feel good about."
"We've been able to craft a welcoming, accessible space that says anyone can find talents, skills, (and) abilities within themselves if you have a supportive environment."
Vocalists were led once again by choir director Darlene (she prefered to keep her last name anonymous). She was responsible for hosting two-hour choir practices once a week, culminating in two performances: one at Kuppajoe and the other during NISA's office Christmas party later this month.
"The point is not to establish a choir that is professional. The point is to explore our voices, have fun with them, discover what they can do, and then bring them together," said Darlene.
The biggest challenge of the program, as she said is often the case with singing groups, was helping participants find their voice and the confidence to use it. She did this by leading the group through various vocal exercises, where she encouraged them to experiment with their voices, accept failure and most of all, have fun.
"Singing belongs to everyone and it's not about the quality, it's about the freedom of expression to do so," said Darlene.
An individual's voice is their birthright said Darlene, it allows them to speak out and up for themselves, celebrate, mourn and connect with those around them.
Should the NISA Choir be funded for a third year, Darlene aims to increase choir membership and spend more time perfecting crowd favourites rather than challenging participants with new songs.
The NISA Choir is just one form of community expression NISA has funded through the municipal grant O'Brien explained, having been issued with the mandate of encouraging creative expression for both members and the public.
Funding has also been allocated to the publication of NISA's Dictionary of Madness she said, in which members of the public share their experience with mental health through writing and illustrations.
These entries were obtained through writing and illustration workshops hosted at NISA said O'Brien, as well as pop-up locations around Downtown Sudbury over the course of the year.
It is set to be released in January 2020.
NISA is a peer-run mental health organization located in Downtown Sudbury that offers peer support, creative expression as well as occupational and vocational programming for anyone who has lived experience with mental health challenges.