Rock choir celebrates first year in Syracuse Rock choir celebrates first year in Syracuse

Local choir members reflect on a year of impact

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News)  — Lois Needham had been waiting for Rock Voices to come to Syracuse. She heard about the rock choir from a friend who lived in Hadley, Massachusetts, where Tony Lechner founded the first Rock Voices community choir.

Needham used to watch her friend’s concerts and wonder, “when was this coming to Syracuse,” she said. Now, she’s one of the original members of the Syracuse branch of Rock Voices, a no-audition community choir dedicated to rock music.

“We started with ‘The Summer of the Beatles,’” Needham said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Lechner founded the first Rock Voices in 2012, after years of teaching music at the middle and high school level and also teaching a jazz choir.


close up choir director leading group
Syracuse Rock Voices director Nina Pelligra prepares group for spring concert
© 2023 Sarah Alessandrini

Lechner and his wife had the idea to form a community choir dedicated to only rock music, and after discovering that no such choir existed in the United States already, Rock Voices was born.

“Classical choirs can be intimidating. You have to audition, you have to know how to read music, you might even need to know how to read in some other languages,” Lechner said. “But with this, there’s no bar like that. You can just come and sing rock music.”

Rock Voices now has choirs in 17 different cities, the furthest from New England being in Portland, Oregon. But Lechner said the requests to start choirs in other cities have been so overwhelming that they’ve had to slow down fulfilling them and focus mostly on launching in more local cities.

“Really, it’s about friendship, and music, people who love music and enjoy being with each other just to sing.”
Dee Perkins, choir member

That’s how Syracuse Rock Voices started. Last year, Nina Pelligra heard about Rock Voices from the director of Albany Rock Voices, who knew her from an a cappella group. Now, Pelligra is the director of Rock Voices Syracuse, which formed a year ago.

“I think people have been so isolated recently in Syracuse, and generally Syracusans need something to get us through the winters, get us through the cloudy days,” said Pelligra, a Syracuse native herself. “It really is a lovely community, and people really care about each other here. Our goal is to just have a little fun. Bring a little joy to our lives.”

Pelligra graduated from Syracuse University’s Setnor School of Music in 2015. While at SU, she was part of four different choirs.

But the members of the rock choir come from all different musical backgrounds, including some who have never sang with a choir before.

“It’s been really fun to see people discover the magic of harmony together,” she said. “It really is a wonderful thing that brings people together and builds relationships.”


Nina Pelligra directing choir
Nina directing the choir rehersing Fleetwood Mac’s “You Make Loving Fun”
© 2023 Sarah Alessandrini

Dee Perkins heard about Rock Voices from Facebook just before the group’s second season. Now, she runs the choir’s Facebook account.

Perkins’ favorite part about being in the group is the sense of community she’s found and the friends she’s made.

“You don’t have to be the next Celine Dion, no one’s looking for that,” Perkins said. “Really, it’s about friendship, and music, people who love music and enjoy being with each other just to sing.”

The choir holds three concerts a year: summer, winter, and spring. The summers always have a theme, she said. The group is rehearsing for its next concert on April 29 in Storer Auditorium at Onondaga County Community College.

“If you can sing in the shower, you can sing with us,” Pelligra said.


*Choir singing Fleetwood Mac’s “You Make Loving Fun”*

Nina Pelligra: I had no awareness of Rock Voices up until less than a year ago. It just really seemed like a great thing for Syracuse espeically after COVID and not having a lot of these community activities.

Lois Needham: We started with the summer of the Beatles. It doesn’t get any better than that. We just had a ball.

Dee Perkins: We have such a good time singing it. We smile, and kind of poke each other. Really, it’s about friendship and music, people who love music and enjoy being with each other just to sing.

Nina: A lot of the people who have been around for three seasons have turned into great musical leaders in the group so when new people come in, they have a solid support where they feel confident and safe to sing out, sing strong.

*Choir finishes “You make loving fun” and claps*

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