Crowdsourcing Voices for a New Kind of Community Choir

by Jacob Uitti

Joel DeJong, founder of the South End’s Crowdsource Choir, a non-religious and non-commitment-orientated singing group, remembers a night in 2017 on the light rail train. He and his wife were on their way home around midnight after seeing the famed rock group U2 at CenturyLink Field with a crowd of many thousands. But on the train, DeJong noticed, everyone was on their phones, removed from one another. So, like one does, he started singing Bono’s lyrics.

“We’d just had an amazing musical experience, super loud, really entertaining, but on the train home nobody was talking to each other,” DeJong says. “It was straight back into zombie zone on their phones. So, I started, ‘I want to run! I want to hide!’”

At first, no one else sang with him. But then someone at the other end of the car responded, “I want to tear down the walls / that hold us inside!” DeJong says the packed group on train sang three U2 songs in unison and upon leaving the light rail, he thought, “That’s what we were here for, a real experience!”

Six months later, on February 1, 2018, his new choir was formed and preparing to perform its first show at the Royal Room Feb. 23.

Crowdsource meets the first Thursday of each month at the Hillman City Collaboratory to sing. Each session might include 10 people or upwards of 50. There are no tryouts and there is no commitment to come back week-to-week, though many do. There are no rehearsals, either. Rather, the two-hour experience of learning the songs is the whole kit and caboodle. And the philosophy behind it is rooted in the idea that the choir is important, that harmonizing and singing in a group is essential.

“We need to move away from the idea of us being spectators,” he says, “to us being participants. That’s the core of what’s required of people in the choir. The only thing you need to do is participate. We’re moving from the transactional to the transformational, from consumption to collaboration, from my story to our story.”


When people think about themselves as creative beings, DeJong says, there are often myriad impediments between their inspiration and expression. Small, quick insults like “you can’t sing” or “your sister is the singer in the family, not you” can really turn a person off from offering their own voice, he says. But Crowdsource aims to erase all that and restore confidence and joy in the participating singers.

The group sings “some popular music, some less popular,” says DeJong, who used to perform in his high school choir and now plays both guitar and piano to facilitate his own singing. And no song is “off the table” even though the group does not associate with any religious group. “There’s nothing really attached to it other than we’re trying to make singing accessible,” DeJong says.

And people are noticing. Crowdsource, which had initially been funded out of pocket and by recommended donation, recently received a $5,000 grant from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods to help support the efforts. And a former member recently started another version of the group this year in Ravenna’s north Seattle neighborhood.

“After coming to Crowdsource Choir two or three times,” says DeJong, “one woman, Kelly Prime, said she wanted to do this in her own neighborhood. So we sat down for coffee and I helped her and a partner, Sue Baker, start one in Ravenna. It’s really great to see the idea spreading. There’s this amazing quote from Nadia-Bolz Weber, ‘You can’t sing harmony alone. Harmony is the sound of unity and difference at the same time.’ And I just love that idea.”

Featured Photo Courtesy Joel DeJong.

Check out Crowdsource Choir for the group’s first show outside of the Collaboratory Feb. 23 at The Royal Room in Columbia City. Entry is free with a suggested donation.  

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the date of the Crowdsource Choir’s show. The show takes place Feb. 23. The Emerald regrets the error.