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Rock Voices choir offers to mix things up in Brookline

Eric Tarlin, director of Rock Voices in Brookline, counts to three before the choir sings “Proud Mary.” Photo by Akua Devall.
October 9, 2023  Updated October 12, 2023 at 3:37 p.m.

This story was published in collaboration with Meghan E. Irons’ Reporting in Depth class at Boston University’s College of Communication.

Eric Tarlin sat down at the piano at the Brookline Senior Center recently and asked members of his choir to take out their music folders.

The sound of pages turning was audible throughout the room, as the members opened their folders and cleared their throats. Tarlin counted to three, and the choir belted out “Ooh, the Proud Mary keep on burnin!”

Rock Voices isn’t your typical adult choir.

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This choir, which is the Brookline chapter of a national organization, specializes in songs like “Proud Mary,” “Just the Two of Us”, “Cecilia” and other classic rock hits. Recently, the choir added a more modern twist by including “Firework” by Katy Perry.

Rock Voices, which opened its season last month and is still taking new members, has been a source of inspiration and nostalgia for members and the community it serves. Its mission is “healing ourselves and others through song,” the organization’s website says.

Members come from all walks of life and all over the area, including Brookline and Cambridge.

“I love to sing, I love rock,” said Bob Stickgold, a Cambridge resident and choir member at rehearsals recently. “Though I haven’t sung since sophomore year of high school – 1961.”

The national Rock Voices program has 24 chapters. All the choirs are given the same list of songs and perform a diverse range of rock music spanning across different decades.

The Brookline chapter, which launched in March, runs three 12-week sessions each year and has a final concert at the end of each session. Members rehearse weekly on Tuesday evenings at the Brookline Senior Center.

The first three weeks of the choir, known as “Open House,” are free, but tuition for a full in-person season is $275 and $125 for a virtual membership. Financial aid is available, and anyone over 18 can join.

As director of the Brookline choir, Tarlin said he appreciates making music with people of all ages.

Eric Tarlin, director of Rock Voices in Brookline, holds his music folder filled with the choir’s repertoire. Photo by Akua Devall

“It’s wild to go from thinking of certain songs as classics to some people who were in college dancing to those songs,” Tarlin said.

Tarlin, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, said he got inspired to direct the choir after he graduated last year from Harvard University, where he was a member of the Harvard Opportunes, the university’s oldest all-gender acapella group, according to its website.

“When I graduated college, I wasn’t singing as frequently with people and missed it,” Tarlin said. “Also, it’s tough to be a musician out of college and I really wanted to make it work in that creative career.”

He said he heard about Rock Voices in a Facebook group of acapella nerds.

“[I was] like wait a minute, I’m well suited for this type of job,” he recalled.

At a recent rehearsal, choir member Betsy Pollock said she was inspired to join after her friend raved about the Rock Voices chapter in New York.

“I said I was looking for something fun to sing in,” said Pollock, who lives in Brookline and has been a member of the choir since its first session in March. “[In the beginning] there were so few of us, there were 12 of us, and this time there are like 50.”

Sushma Bobbana, a Brookline native, said she appreciates the nostalgia she gets from singing in the choir.

“I think a lot of the songs they enlisted were songs I grew up with from my childhood,” Bobbana said. “I’ve learned all the lyrics that I’ve never known before because I grew up when we didn’t have the Internet and we couldn’t just look up lyrics.”

Tarlin said he’s pleased with a broad range of experiences in the choir.

“I believe everyone can sing,’’ he said. “You just need the right environment to be able to explore that without feeling insecure and that’s Rock Voices.”

Rock Voices’s next concert will be held on Jan.13 at the United Parish church.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story incorrectly identified Bob Stickgold as Philip Kramer.