During all four years of high school, Margaret Tobin was dedicated to singing in the school choir. In Grade 12, she was kicked out for being too exuberant.
"If you had been in choir for all four years, you would have gotten a pin," she said. "I didn't get the pin, and it was a traumatic thing. I was crying, and I wasn't a crier in those days."
Today, she is sharing her exuberance in a different way.
Tobin started Spirit's Call Choir, a group of singers who put on concerts for local organizations in Winnipeg that help support youth and families in the inner city.
"We're not just singing for ourselves, but for these organizations," she said. "We're supporting."
The choir puts on two concerts a year at Jubilee Place & Concert Hall, 173 Talbot Ave. They donate 85 per cent of the profit to charity.
On Mother's Day, the choir will be singing for the Immigrant Women's Association of Manitoba, which provides services to immigrant and refugee women.
"We have a personal connection with each organization and hear the stories about coming from other countries and other cultures," Tobin said. "When we know what we're singing for, it makes it more deeply meaningful."
In December, the choir put on a concert for Healthy Start for Mom and Me, an organization that offers language services to immigrant women. The choir raised more than $7,000 for the organization.
Spirit's Call Choir isn't your typical singing group.
The choir doesn't hold auditions and is made up of 160 members. Some of them have never taken a voice lesson.
"Some people have been told all their lives that they can't sing," Tobin said. "If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing. People can show up and sing in whatever way they do."
The choir accidentally started 13 years ago in a counselling workshop for students at the University of Manitoba. The idea arose after a chanting warm-up.
"Someone said we should start a group," she said. "So we started with a group of people who were told they couldn't sing."
Since then, the choir started to grow from singing Christmas carols in living rooms to four-part harmonies in the Unitarian Church.
The group performs songs of cultures and languages from around the world. The choir has released two CDs and writes some of their own songs.
Tobin said the most important tool for singers is to find their pitch.
"When kids sing Happy Birthday, they always sing it so high. Some people can't sing that high," she said. "A lot of anxiety goes with singing; then your true voice doesn't come out. You have to find your sweet spot."
Sometimes, life can hit some sour notes.
Since 2004, Tobin has been diagnosed with breast cancer three times. She believes singing helped with each battle.
"It's always a shock, but I'm not focused on this horrible medical thing. Medical stuff is on the sideline," she said.
"Everyone has life challenges of different kinds, and I have support beyond belief. I love this choir."
Since her treatment, Tobin encourages other cancer patients to come out and sing.
"I know the ropes about all this, so I can understand where they're coming from," she said. "People say it (the choir) really helps them get through their lives. Singing is so uplifting."
With the help of her voice, Tobin wants to continue giving back to the community for many years to come.
"I want to contribute in a way that's meaningful to each individual, to the community and to the world," she said. "It's about listening to what the part is and forgetting about yourself."
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