Ellen Long runs her hand along a quilt spread out on a table in St. Christopher House on Dundas Street West.
The colours don’t necessarily match and the squares aren’t all the same size, but they come together to make a big beautiful quilt, created by the Common Thread Community Chorus along with its children’s choir and supporters.
“Somehow it works,” Long said. “It really has people’s marks in it.”
Long, a south Parkdale resident, is the founding president of the Common Thread Community Chorus, which started 14 years ago. Common Thread is a secular, non-audition choir that sings folk music reflecting the languages and cultures of Toronto.
A year and a half ago Common Thread launched a two-year pilot project, a children’s choir called Common Thread Kids, which is run in partnership with St. Christopher House School of Music at Dundas Street West and Ossington Avenue.
They practice weekly and sing a collection of folk, roots and world music. It is open to children aged 7 to 13 and no experience is necessary. They learn a wide variety of fun songs that build a sense of belonging, respect for diversity, and positive social change from a youth perspective. Participants come from all over the city. Ten-year-old Nick White comes from the Davenport and Dufferin area and has been a part of the choir since it began.
“The people here are nice and it is fun to do,” White said.
But, lately the choir practice time hasn’t just been about singing.
“Every week a group of parents, as the kids rehearse, sit around and literally hand stitch (the quilt),” said Long. “We are just building as we go.”
The quilt began after Long took a course in fabric painting at the Haliburton School of The Arts, and with her limited artistic background, she said she was immediately struck by how easy it is to do and how beautiful hand-painted fabric can look.
“I was told when I was younger that I didn’t have any art talent and some people are told they don’t have any music talent,” she said. “Because we know that if you get a chance you can do it, and that is the philosophy behind our choir.”
As she started making the fabric squares, the idea dawned to turn it into a community project. That’s when she got the other choir members and supporters involved and started stockpiling the completed squares into a textile bank.
“I felt there was something powerful about this and about inviting people to make squares and try it out,” she said.
And then came the idea of what to do with them: a quilt.
An artist friend helped design the quilt and parents set out sewing it. When the quilt is finished it will be auctioned off, likely in May, with all the proceeds going toward the kids choir.
The quilt will be on display at an upcoming concert, The Hands Together concert at the Daniels Spectrum, the new cultural hub in Regent Park, 585 Dundas St E, on Sunday, March 3.
The event kicks off at 3 p.m. with activities for children and adults as well as a silent auction. At 4 p.m. there will be performances by Common Thread Community Chorus, Common Thread Kids Choir and the Rainbow Songs Foundation Teachers.
At the concert, Long said a second quilt will be created – a “participatory pop-up quilt” that will be made and auctioned off in real-time at the concert.
Audience members will be asked to paint a fabric square as they arrive and the wet squares will be carefully pinned to a large Styrofoam sheet. Once full, it will look like a completed quilt that will be live auctioned from the concert stage. The quilt will then be sewn together and delivered to the winner a few weeks later.
Tickets to the March 3 concert are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students.
Common Thread Kids Choir welcomes youth with a range of experience because Long said they believe everyone can sing.
The cost is on a sliding scale between $1 and $5 a week, depending on the family’s budget.
The choir operates on trimesters and the next term begins March 18. Long said there are currently 14 youth involved and more are welcome to join.
For more information visit www.commonthreadchorus.ca or http://www.stchrishouse.org