ST. PETERSBURG — With eyes closed, you’d never know you were standing in the men’s bathroom. It’s not a likely place to hear such vibrant harmony — unless you’re at Gibbs High School.
Fifteen students there meet twice a week during lunch in a small, two-stall restroom inside Building 5 to perform music they arrange themselves. And with more than 1.2 million total views of their videos on YouTube, it’s clear the world is watching.
The idea for Men’s Bathroom Choir was born last fall when Timofei Sennikov, 18, thought about the nice acoustics offered by the cinder block walls. He started asking classmates to meet him there, and word spread. Soon, they were sitting on sinks, standing on toilets and making videos a ton of people have watched.
“Our intention was just to sing,” he said. None of the students was expecting to attract so much attention.
Their first video, a rendition of the sea chanty Drunken Sailor, dropped Nov. 21. It now has nearly 785,000 views. They uploaded another in December, performing Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas is You, and the latest video, published this month, is cover of The Avengers theme song.
Another clip comes out this week, a performance of the song Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. The Men’s Bathroom Choir YouTube channel has more than 47,000 subscribers, and a sheet music company has reached out to sponsor the students.
Gibbs choir director Matthew Clear, 31, remembers the first time he heard singing voices pouring out of the bathroom and into the hallway. Then it started happening regularly, as the students got more organized and started holding regular practices.
“This is like heaven as a teacher,” he said. “They’re taking everything we have taught them and using it to make music. That’s the biggest reward as a teacher.”
All members of the choir are part of the Pinellas County Center for the Arts, a selective, four-year magnet program housed at Gibbs that offers high-level training to students interested in pursuing careers in visual and performing arts. They are all instrumentalists, but only two take courses focused on vocals.
Others, like 15-year-old freshman Brendan Nelson, who plays the trombone, opted to join the Men’s Bathroom Choir to learn more about singing from his peers. “It’s such a positive thing,” he said.
It was a challenge at first to recruit people for the choir, Sennikov said. Some thought it was silly to sing in the bathroom, a place not known for cleanliness or social gatherings. But he always brings air freshener.
“We take care of our bathroom,” Sennikov said. “I want people to be able to smell the freshness.”
Plus, the location is what seems to have made the choir so popular online.
“This is why i pay for internet,” one commenter wrote on the group’s first video. Another called it a "true masterpiece.”
Someone from South America wrote to say: “You are now known in Brazil. Expect worldwide soon.” A couple others put in requests for specific songs while teens from elsewhere wished their own schools had a bathroom choir, or said the group at Gibbs had inspired them to start one.
In addition to Sennikov and Nelson, members of the group are Bobby Acevedo, Anthony Aldissi, Cayleb Blevins, Louis Brumm, Camden DuBuque, Liam Dunn, Adam Fuller, Nicolas Garcia, Isaiah Holloway, Haydn Kelley, Cooper Madden, Devaughn Nelson and Richard Yackel.
During a performance Thursday, they piled into the bathroom holding sheet music and looked for direction from Sennikov, the senior who arranges their songs. They leaned against the white walls, sat on the pink countertop and reminded those around them not to trigger the motion-activated hand dryer near the entrance.
They had only just begun when Sennikov called for the singers to stop: “Cut, cut, cut, cut,” he said, critiquing the group’s pitch. They were too high, he said, so they started again, a couple boys bursting out of the largest stall with a large bass drum.
The boys talked over notes and pitches once they finished, ready to go again to get it just right. Even in the bathroom, singing is serious business — especially when so many people are watching.