St. Cecilia's Asylum Chorus leads the Krewe of Carolers Sunday night in Algiers Point to do the thing they love.
"People don't realize how intimate an action singing together is," Lucas Davenport says. "There's a physicality to it that's only approached by physical intimacy."
Davenport is part of St. Cecilia's Asylum Chorus, the six-member vocal group that will lead the Krewe of Carolers Sunday night at 6 p.m. on Algiers Point. They'll parade and sing through the neighborhood, and they invite their neighbors to join in, whether on the walk or at the Old Point Bar, where they will end. For him, a chorus without a holiday concert is like cheesecake without strawberry sauce, and what better way to sing Christmas songs than in people's neighborhoods? "We have a real open ear culture," Davenport says. "If you hear someone playing music outside your house, everybody wants to peek out: 'Let's go outside and hear them; why not?'"
Davenport was a member of New Orleans Bingo! Show until its touring demands became more than he could accommodate, and he started wondering if it was time to step out from behind the keyboards and leave the musician's life behind. Before he could do that, though, he had his own musical bucket list, and one item on it was to put together a spiritual choir with a full band. After his experience working with the Bingo! Show and Preservation Hall, he was confident he had the logistical and musical know-how to put it together, and after half a year of rehearsal, the band made its debut performance on a Sunday morning at the Hall. It was everything he hoped for, an ecstatic celebration of the joy of singing.
"Everyone was like, 'When are we going to do it again?' and I said I had no intention of ever doing it again, that it was a one-off," Davenport says. "They were all like, 'You made us rehearse for six months and we love the project. You can't just have us do one show. Let's do it again.'" He streamlined the lineup to six voices - Alexandra Scott, Hannah Kreiger-Benson, Ashley Shabankareh, Amy Trail, Tim Robertson and himself - and tweaked the instrumentation so that it could be an ongoing project. The band always includes Rick Nelson, who also plays with The Twilight Singers, The Afghan Whigs and The Polyphonic Spree, and often includes Anthony Cuccia and Marc Stone. He makes it clear to the accompanists where the project's heart lies. "It's about the singers, and it will always be a singers' band," Davenport says.
The group's repertoire has focused on the spirituals and songs that everybody knows. They could be more obscure, but that's not the point. "We're trying to find those common spiritual tunes that everybody knows and reinforce the joy of singing those songs together," he says. So far, it hasn't been terribly rewarding financially - a common situation among large bands - but it has been everything he hoped for musically. "This far eclipses anything I've done professionally in New Orleans, not to measure success by recognition but by the fact that people appreciate and really love what we're doing. I don't do many shows where people cry in the audience."
Since the group focuses on well-loved songs, Christmas carols make perfect sense. "We're going to start playing it and you're going to know your part because you know these tunes," Davenport says. "It's already in your motor memory." Since the Chorus starts as a large group, it only seemed natural to them to invite musician friends, particularly since many live in the neighborhood. He hopes in the future to have the Krewe of Carolers grow to a point where it could have multiple groups caroling in the neighborhood at the same time, or line up a series of caroling walks in different neighborhoods around town. For this year, he just wants to get everybody involved.
"People who don't think they can sing, we sing loud," he says. "Come out. There's no way your flat tone can out-sing us. I'm always sad that people withhold themselves from singing because they say, 'I can't sing.' I can't dance, but I still go to second lines. I'll make a fool of myself no matter what because it's about the joy of doing it."
The Krewe of Carolers will form at 6 p.m. at McDonough Park (400 Block of Verret Street), and start the walk at 6:30. It will end at the Old Point Bar around 8, where the music and party will continue until 10. All are invited.
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