Songs with Strangers

I’ve never liked my voice, but a Newfoundland ‘singcation’ gave me a joyful rush of choral confidence

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When in doubt, open your mouth.

That’s the first lesson Doug Dunsmore teaches me during a five-day retreat designed to turn even insecure non-singers into melodic songbirds.

Dunsmore, the choirmaster at Gower Street United in St. John’s, N.L., is the music director of Come All Ye, a “singcation” held every October in Port Rexton, N.L. Two dozen of us gather at an elegant inn on the rugged coast where a lonely foghorn sounds in the still of the night.

“Anyone can sing,” says Dunsmore. “It’s 90 percent brains, 10 percent talent.”

I’m not so sure. I’ve spent a lifetime thinking my voice is as monot onous as that foghorn. I’m haunted, still, by a disastrous karaoke performance I mangled so badly friends jumped on stage to help. I sing quietly in church. I keep my mouth shut in the shower.

Dunsmore offers musical instruction that doubles as sound life advice: “Be sure to breathe,” “Stand tall,” “Don’t let yourself get small,” “Animate your face,” “Get over yourself.” Hitting a wrong note isn’t the worst thing, not trying is. “If you screw up, just keep going,” he says.

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