Community in song: Meet the Arts Staff Choir

Image credits: @chriskingcreative (Instagram)

The Arts Staff Choir has only just begun, but its impact is growing. The group has already established itself as a smash hit among staff from the Faculty of Arts and beyond—a testament to the power of community singing. 

Singers of all abilities have been invited to step away from their desks once a month—and more frequently for special performances—and share in a love of group song. The choir’s founder, Administration Manager Jennifer Suratos in the Department of English Language & Literatures, and its director, Academic Advisor Jonathan (Jono) Lee, along with other choir members, share what they treasure about this community and where they’re going next.

Jennifer Suratos began connecting with folx from across units in the Faculty of Arts who shared a love of music and singing. “I have practically sung all my life, and reaped the benefits of singing,” Jennifer shared. “I thought, ‘what would happen if I gathered people with the intent to sing?’ And here we are.”

The initiative began with some seed money from the Healthy Workplace Initiatives Fund. The choir invited singers of all abilities and experiences to sign up, get out of the office, and engage with people in units across Arts in a unique way. An inclusive and encouraging atmosphere was imperative from the start. 

“We come from a wide range of experience and skill sets: some sing at a professional level, some sing in other choirs, and for some, this is the first time they’ve sung in a group, ever. There is absolutely no judgement,” Jennifer said. “I always ask people to grab a name tag if they want to, since we have members coming and going. There is no set requirement to attend—I encourage people to join whenever they can.”

“Jennifer and Jonathan created such a fun, welcoming environment that I was immediately hooked. It was also a wonderful surprise to see so many people there whom I've worked with across Arts for many years and discovering that we shared the love of singing.”
Manager, Educational Strategy and Programming, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs

Some members have attended with a group from their unit, which Jennifer believes strengthens ties among staff. Some attend solo too, and since there is always time for grounding, warm-ups, and a cookie at the end, it’s a great way to connect with new people.

Jennifer hailed their choir socials, of which there will be many more. “We got together at the end of August to celebrate our first gig… We had a piano player on hand and did live karaoke. It was so much fun.”

“I've rediscovered my passion for singing, an activity that I had set aside due to my demanding full-time job and the responsibilities of being a father at home. I now cherish the moments standing by the piano and learning new tunes!”
Systems and Development Manager, Arts ISIT

Collaboration and teamwork are key factors of a choir performance, particularly when harmonizing. “It requires a high level of sensitivity, perception and cohesion,” says Jonathan. “They say that being in choir is 30% singing, and 70% listening.”

There is also opportunity to shine as a soloist—something that for many members, is a bucket list item. “I have tried as much as possible to encourage members to put themselves out there,” Jonathan shared. “I stand by my belief that the Arts Staff Choir provides an incredibly unique opportunity that people otherwise would not have. The outpour of support and positivity from the group when certain members sing solo is a testament to the pride, joy, and camaraderie that comes with being in a choir. We lift each other up!”

“On days when we practice at lunch, I return to my office with a real spring in my step and a smile on my face. I recommend joining the choir to all my Arts colleagues!”
Public Services Manager, Museum of Anthropology

Jonathan is a strong believer in the power of singing and the therapeutic effects it has on the members of the group. “There’s something special about singing, even in comparison to other musical instruments or activities,” he shared. “Singers are their own instrument, which means that singing calls individuals to put themselves into their art in a very vulnerable and honest way. When people sing together, they are engaging in an emotionally profound experience; one that cannot be recreated in any other context, in my opinion.”

“I am in awe of our talented choristers, whose confidence helped me build up my own. It has truly been an honour revelling in each other's voices and cultivating our joy for music. Without our collective teamwork, commitment, and passion, this choir would not have been possible. I look forward to another season of honing our craft together and hitting all the right notes.”
Communications Officer, FROGBEAR Project, Department of Asian Studies

The choir in the wider UBC community

The Arts Staff Choir will be doing a special performance at the Frederic Wood Theatre on Thursday, May 16 at 6:00 pm to raise funds in support of the Peter Loeffler Scholarship. They hope to see you there!

The choir had its first official gig at the UBC Blueberry Festival in July 2023, much to the delight of onlookers and passers-by. Watch the full performance below.