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Group photo of the Hart House Jazz Choir, better known as Onoscatopoeia.
Photo by Amy Sheffield
Culture & Society

Onoscatopoeia

Hart House’s choir members only use one instrument: their voices

The Hart House Jazz Choir – better known as Onoscatopoeia – has been performing scat singing since the group’s inception in 1998. The technique is used in jazz music when a vocalist substitutes an instrumental solo or a song’s words with improvised, wordless syllables. Think of Stevie Wonder’s “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be- Doo-Da-Day,” or vocalist Ella Fitzgerald’s famous scat rendition of “One Note Samba.”

Hart House’s 24 choir members pride themselves in using only one instrument: their voices. What may sound like a trumpet or violin can be a soprano busting out melodic harmonies. “The actual term ‘onomatopoeia’ means the imitation of sound,” says Kurt Sampson, the choir’s former music director. “Aside from scatting, our group can also imitate instrumental sounds – so the name ‘Onoscatopoeia’ seemed to fit well.”

Watch a video of Onoscatopoeia performing “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

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