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Canadian Poet Inspires Men's Community Choir


Leonard Cohen is known for distinctive, haunting and provocative songs. His music inspired one artist in the Bay Area with amounts to a vision: that there ought to be a community choir of men singing a cappella exclusively from the Leonard Cohen songbook. Lisa Morehouse spent some time with the group. They call themselves the Conspiracy of Beards.

LISA MOREHOUSE, BYLINE: The Beards, as they're known, don't all have beards, but they do stand out.

RACHEL PAZEKA: They're all dressed to the nines in suits, a lot of them, lots of them are in fedoras.

MOREHOUSE: That's Rachel Pazeka. She's at this performance in an upstairs art gallery in San Francisco with her husband Tom.

TOM PAZEKA: I feel like they're going to start running whiskey across border of Canada at any second now. That's how they're dressed. That's how they look.

MOREHOUSE: The Conspiracy of Beards' arrangements set Leonard Cohen songs in unexpected forms. Here's Cohen singing "Suzanne."


MOREHOUSE: And here, the Beards rehearse their version.

CONSPIRACY OF BEARDS: (Singing) Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river...

MOREHOUSE: It's in the style of a Gregorian chant.

BEARDS: (Singing) You can hear the boats go by...

MOREHOUSE: More than 10 years ago, local artist Peter Kadyk envisioned this choir. After he died in 2001, a handful of guys came together for a one-time tribute. Peter Whitehead was there.

PETER WHITEHEAD: It was a little hit and miss. We only had two songs, but there was a lot of screaming and yelling. And people liked something about it, you know, more than the fact that we could actually sing in tune and get the words right.

MOREHOUSE: So, rehearsals began, and new members and gigs came out of the woodwork. Nine years later, the 30 or so members who show up to weekly rehearsal include teachers and carpenters and filmmakers. There are men in their 20s, and in their 70s.

BEARDS: (Singing) Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir...

MOREHOUSE: And the Beards say their staying power comes from this simple opportunity for amateurs to be serious about making music together.

BEARDS: (Singing) ...to be free.

MOREHOUSE: For NPR news, I'm Lisa Morehouse in San Francisco.


SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lisa Morehouse