“I wouldn’t call myself a winter person…” Nona Invie reflects, “…but I do love this kind of excuse we have to hibernate.” Yes! I nod my head furiously, eyes wide—after living here for nearly nine years, I’m still working on my relationship with winter. I really only like the way it feels from my sunroom—tempered, soft. Light streams in through honeycomb shades and I lose this rushed, weekend-tendency to think in the subjunctive. My toes are cold, dammit, and “shoulds” will wait.
In 2011, Invie, of the American folk band, Dark Dark Dark, let a Minnesota freeze set her pace. After years of traveling—promoting albums both at home and internationally—the St. Louis Park native slowed down to consider prioritizing new musical pursuits. With a little bit of encouragement from close friend and local jeweler, Annika Kaplan, one Sunday, she invited a few women to her South Minneapolis home to sing. “I really just wanted to create a meaningful, nourishing space for women to bond. I had a piano and enough room for everyone…the group just blossomed from there.”
Over the course of a few months, the choir grew from four members to fifteen, as women outside of Invie’s close circle of friends learned about it, and expressed interest in joining. “I started getting emails from people who wanted to audition.” Invie laughs, in disbelief. “I had never even really thought about establishing it…but I had all of these women… really wanting to make space for women, wanting to prioritize women.” And with that, slowly, quietly, the Anonymous Choir was born.
Most of the group’s earliest members had never even performed in front of an audience before—most had little experience beyond a few years singing in high school or church choirs. Talking to Invie, I was struck by the incredible courage this implied. When I’m driving home from work, crawling along 394, and I remember that I have the Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces” album on my iPhone, I am transformed. I love to sing. But that version of me just doesn’t exist outside of my car. There are limits I’ve created for myself—identities I do not dare to adopt.
The choir ultimately offered a space for a beautifully diverse group of women—jewelers, painters, yoga instructors, soccer moms—to broaden their understanding of themselves, and to safely explore their untapped talents. Nona explains, “I think that because this isn’t a professional career for everyone… it keeps it lighter. It’s just fun for them. It’s not a perfectionist group, and if you make a mistake, it truly doesn’t matter.”
This laid-back attitude should not be mistaken for flippancy or indifference—the women work hard to blend their voices to Nona’s careful arrangements. While she’s written a few songs for the choir to perform, Nona prefers to arrange covers of some of her greatest inspirations—Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Otis Redding. “I think I’m drawn to these artists because their voices aren’t overly produced…they’re not hitting every single note perfectly…it’s about the raw feelings behind their songwriting… I think that’s the charm of the choir. It’s this raw desire to sing together.”
I caught one of the group’s performances last winter. I’d never heard of The Anonymous Choir before, but I’d decided to tag along with my roommates after learning that the show was at Modern Times, and that there would likely be free pizza. My passion for the arts is only matched by my commitment to tracking down free food.
I remember trudging through the snow to the back door of the Café—it had felt pretty covert and cool at the time. A small child sat on a stool just inside the entryway, holding out a hat, collecting whatever small change or combination of bills we felt inclined to give her. We were required to guess “the password.” Once we’d provided a satisfactory response, we filtered to the back room, where groups of people had already begun to gather.
Soon, the choir fanned out across a small, half-moon shaped space at the front of the room. I mostly remember the depth of the silence that followed their entrance. It was as if every last person in that small, dark café had taken a deep breath, was waiting for permission to exhale. The women—dressed in overalls, floral frocks, turtlenecks, big brass bracelets—looked to Nona, poised at the bench of the piano, and began to sing.
Oh, like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.