April 15, 2021
CMC’s oldest vocal ensemble, Anything Goes Chorus, is celebrating its 40th anniversary! Since the chorus cannot produce an anniversary concert, they put together three professional videos, the first of which has just been released.
The Anything Goes Chorus began in 1981 in Oakland and was founded and continues to be directed by vocalist, pianist, guitarist, and arranger Ellen Robinson. The chorus launched at a time when, according to Robinson, there were not many opportunities for adult music students to learn to sing in a group. The chorus found its San Francisco home at CMC in 1985. The chorus steadily grew through the years with weekly rehearsals, annual performances, and outreach concerts at retirement communities and homeless shelters. After 25 years, the chorus at CMC was divided into two groups based on level: Anything Goes Chorus I for beginners without audition and Anything Goes Chorus II by audition for singers with more experience.
Through the years, the repertoire and the curriculum of the group have changed. When the group began, Robinson was a singer-songwriter who performed folk music, with the chorus doing the same. Robinson wrote a new arrangement every week at that time. Now the group focuses mostly on jazz, Broadway, and pop music, in keeping with Robinson’s own artistic journey as a jazz vocalist and performer. Anything Goes I has become a group where singers learn not only group singing, but receive individualized instruction from Robinson. Eventually Anything Goes I members can join the second level.
Robinson has stayed inspired as the chorus’s director through her love of music and her continuing amazement at hearing harmony sung together by many voices. Being director has taught her many important life lessons over the years, such as patience, acceptance, focus, and organization. As Robinson says about the chorus, “It gives meaning to my life and I see before my eyes that I’m doing good in the world by helping people find their voice.”
During the COVID pandemic, the chorus like almost all CMC programs moved to Zoom. The transition to online has not been easy and has required technological learning curves. Robinson has learned to be spontaneous and intuitive as a teacher once again, finding fun in her online classes. The chorus members have received some unexpected gains from the transition to online learning such as more one-on-one work with Robinson and developing important musicianship skills like working with a metronome and note recognition and location.
In lieu of having a 40th anniversary concert, the chorus has been creating a series of professionally produced performance videos with everyone singing together. The chorus raised more than $6,000 on Go Fund Me to hire a sound engineer/video editor. For the first video to the song “Why We Sing,” Robinson taught her singers how to make quality video recordings, advising them on appropriate backgrounds, lighting, and performing for the camera. She coached her singers on practicing to the rehearsal track that the sound engineer created. Robinson reviewed multiple drafts of videos and gave feedback to her singers, until the final videos were submitted. There are two more videos in the series, which will be released this year.