More #RediscoverHarmony Stories
For over a year, the health crisis has put to the test the bonds built by choruses, choirs, and singing ensembles. Now, as in-person activities resurface, singing groups look back at lessons learned and into the future with hope and a strengthened understanding of the power of community. The Fall/Winter 2021 issue of the Voice magazine featured organizations and choral leaders sharing the different ways they rediscovered harmony this fall. Here are more #RediscoverHarmony stories shared by Chorus America members.
This is a companion article to a collection of #RediscoverHarmony stories published in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of the Voice. Read the original Voice article here, and see the full digital edition of the 2021 Fall/Winter Voice here.
Paul Rudoi, Content and Communications Manager
National Lutheran Choir
The National Lutheran Choir is a 60-member ensemble rooted in its mission to strengthen, renew, and preserve the heritage of sacred choral music. During the pandemic the choir rediscovered so much.
With a 100% vaccinated choir and staff,we are rediscovering harmony by reintroducing singing safely in person. In November,during our All-Saints program, we rediscovered harmony with audiences as they joined us in singing hymns and carols!
We also rediscovered the size and scope of our audience and welcomed community members living beyond our Twin Cities home in Minnesota. We are innovative and building bridges of access to the music we love to sing and share by offering unique virtual programming alongside our in-person concerts. We continue to examine how we can better support under-resourced local, national, and international communities; broadening access to music can and will bring us together.
Karena Ingram, Audience Development Manager
Baltimore Choral Arts
In a time without live performances, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society has reimagined our traditional concerts by creating the free virtual series, Off-the-Grid. It connects our singers and audiences while reaching larger and more diverse audiences through a partnership with WMAR-2 TV. Motivated by the social unrest and pandemic affecting Baltimore and communities across America, Music Director Anthony Blake Clark created the first two Off-the-Grid productions. For several months, Blake extensively researched music composed during duress and health crises. He also consulted with local leaders and international experts about best presenting these themes and music in this innovative format. We also increased focus on highlighting composers and creators from marginalized communities to share their stories and experiences as a means of reflection and growth.
Find the complete three-part series here!
This online series with impactful repertoire continues in the shorter formatted program, Choral Arts Shorts.
We also engineered ways to connect with our singers. In preparation for an outdoor performance in June, we held parking lot rehearsals. Individually, singers sang into a microphone from their car and received a direct audio feed of the full choir into their car radios. We implemented community-wide Zoom vocal masterclasses with our Masterworks Moments series as well and started the web series, Why We Sing where we interviewed singers from our chorus and discussed what choral music means to them.
In preparation for upcoming in-person indoor performances, we’ve set strict COVID-19 safety policies to ensure that both our singers and audience members are as safe as possible. Full vaccination requirements, rehearsing masked and socially distanced, and sanitization before and after rehearsals are a few practices implemented by our choir.
Alexander Nishibun, Tenor, Bookkeeping, Production
With a hopeful eye on the horizon, Cantus is excited to return to in-person concerts this season! While artist and audience safety remains of paramount importance, we look forward to feeling the synergistic relationship between artist and audience. Last season, Cantus welcomed audiences from all 50 states and eight countries to virtual shows and will continue to offer virtual access and our pay-what-you-can model to our programs. Participants can find a diverse selection of shows that highlight works by BIPOC and non-male-identifying composers in our repertoire.
Collaboration has been an integral part of Cantus’ identity for more than 25 years. The vision of giving voice to shared human experiences guides the artists to craft narrative arcs within their programs that speak to audiences everywhere. Thoughtful consideration and selection of under-represented artists help build shows that share music from gifted individuals whose lived experiences bring incredible meaning to their work. Embedded in our presentations are new commissions like Melissa Dunphy’s N-400 Erasure Songs, performances of seldom-heard works like Margaret Bonds’ Fields of Wonder, and programs like “Ramas y Raíces: Songs from Latin America” – comprised entirely of works from Central and South American composers – and “Covers: A Change Is Gonna Come” – popular music that ignited social change in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Bucks County Choral Society
The Bucks County Choral Society resumed rehearsing and performing with a vaccination requirement for all performers and masking during indoor rehearsals and performances. On September 1, after an 18-month halt to performances, the group’s welcome-back show received an unexpected disruption that caused the long-awaited live performance to go digital. Through obstacles, the ensemble delivered an unforgettable night filled with music to audiences at a time when folks needed joy the most.
The Choral Society had been planning all summer for its return to live performance. On Wednesday, September 1 a free outdoor concert in Doylestown’s Central Park was to be the culmination of the park’s summer concert series. Music had been distributed. A new silicone mask brace had been found to make singing with a mask much easier. Three rehearsals the week before the concert had been fun, exciting, and productive. We so looked forward to singing for a live audience again!
But the weather forecast that week indicated that Hurricane Ida would arrive in Bucks County the evening of September 1 as well. And the forecast didn’t budge. It became clear that heavy rain, flooding, and power outages were all but inevitable for what we all hoped would have been a joyous night of singing under the stars.
With school starting up, rescheduling for the following week was out of the question. What to do? After all that anticipation and preparation, was it worth even singing another rehearsal only to have the concert canceled?
The answer came late on Monday evening, the week of the performance. We turned our final Tuesday night rehearsal into a video-recorded performance that premiered live on our YouTube channel at 7:00 pm Wednesday, the same time the live performance was to happen!
Everyone came to the “rehearsal” dressed in colorful shirts and blouses as planned for the live concert. Choir President Susan McDonnell brought her video camera, and Frank Levy and Debbie DiMicco came in to stand behind two other phone cameras. The Voices of the Future soloists recorded their parts separately because they had prior commitments that Tuesday night.
The “rehearsal” went off without a hitch. A couple of takes for a few numbers, but we finished with a little time to spare, cheering and elbow-hugging each other as we closed with Sondheim’s “Old Friends” from Merrily We Roll Along – a fitting lyric for the moment!
Artistic Director Tom Lloyd then spent the next day employing the video editing skills he acquired by necessity throughout the pandemic to produce the final video, including intermission interviews with several singers. The upload to YouTube began with only 20 minutes to spare. But then at 7:00 pm sharp on Wednesday, September 1, 2021, the video appeared online!
The result: 800+ views and counting, with dozens of “thumbs up” on YouTube and Facebook. Though it wasn’t a “live” performance, we were all singing together at last and were able to share the music with as many as would have attended in person.
Watch the performance here!
Joshua Jacobson, Artistic Director
The Zamir Chorale of Boston
The Zamir Chorale of Boston is again holding weekly in-person rehearsals this fall. We have a safety committee, which includes two members who are doctors: a primary care physician and a pulmonologist. Additionally, anyone who enters the rehearsal venue must provide proof of complete vaccination and must wear a mask. We rehearse in a large room with good ventilation, and for added caution, we expanded our rehearsal seating plan. Singers have about 3 feet separation.
Rehearsal length is now 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 20-minute break. We encourage singers to leave the room during the break and preferably go outside to breathe without a mask. Singers are asked not to eat or drink in the rehearsal room.
Cold or flu symptoms or potential COVID exposure are taken very seriously. Members under those situations may not attend rehearsal until their symptoms are gone or a COVID-19 test result is negative. If absent, singers can access video-recorded practices the following day.
We’re still trying to figure out what to do about concerts, but we have a few months to deal with what is a changing situation. We may require all singers and instrumentalists to have a PCR or rapid COVID test before the dress rehearsal and the concert. That may allow us to stand closer together and perhaps even remove masks.
As for the audience, we will require everyone to be vaccinated and probably ask guests to keep masks on. The concert will be streamed live, so the audience can choose how they experience the program.
Roberta Q. Jackson, Founding Artistic & Executive Director
Portland Symphonic Girlchoir
The Portland Symphonic Girlchoir (PSG) survived the pandemic because of our strong community. Over the past 33 years, we have inspired our singers and audiences through beautiful and excellent music and performances. We built a unique, caring, and inclusive community of girls and young women and empower them with a distinct voice for today and the future. Our efforts continue to inspire the support of our current families, alumnae, alumnae families, and community members.
PSG is highly grateful to have survived the impacts of the pandemic thanks to 1) parents who continued to pay 20-21 tuition and registered/paid tuition for their daughters for the 21-22 Season, 2) a very supportive Board of Directors, 3) generous donors who supported PSG at the same levels as 2019-2020 via our two annual fundraisers: PSG After Dark Silent Auction and Breakfast With The Stars, both online, and 4) two PPP loans (both forgiven) and a COVID 19 grant, without which we would not have survived.
Many factors aided our return. From March 2020-June 2020 and Sept 2020-May 2021, we held weekly Zoom rehearsals for our four ensembles led by Co-Conductors Roberta Q Jackson and Debra D Burgess. Our goal was to maintain the Girlchoir’s sense of community. During these Zoom rehearsals, our pianist Deb played mp3 recordings of past PSG performances while also playing parts to help singers identify their roles. Hearing the work in context allowed singers to sing as part of the choir even though they were home. This approach helped our singers feel connected to each other, our pianist, me, and the music.
As we began the 2021-2022 registration, we felt grateful to welcome several singers who opted out of Zoom rehearsals and many new singers recommended by current and Alumnae singers. While our numbers have not fully returned to pre-pandemic levels, we are hopeful that more of our former singers will return once the COVID vaccine for children ages 5-11 is available.
For the 21-22 Season, we are rehearsing in-person, masked, and distanced. With the support from the pastor, we moved our piano and rehearsal to the church sanctuary from Fellowship Hall, where we are in-residence. It was thrilling to hear our singers in person; it brought tears to our eyes! We will never again take for granted the power and the beauty of making music collectively and studying the language of music in a group environment where we all learn, we all grow, we are all creative, and music lives on.
We recently had our first in-person performance outdoors with our combined choirs masked for a community fair in Portland. It was magical! The girls sounded great, even having only three rehearsals, and the sense of community between new and returning singers was heartwarming!
Dr. W. Douglas Renfroe, Artistic Director
Voices of Naples
Voices of Naples is starting its 19th season in October.
Overly concerned with everyone's health due to COVID, we utilized singer's masks and were socially distanced while presenting a performance of Messiah with a chamber orchestra and a 24-singer ensemble. We also performed three additional concerts this year, all with a reduced ensemble, but this upcoming season will be different.
We will continue to "request" that everyone be fully vaccinated and utilize singer's masks. We cannot "require" everyone to be fully vaccinated as the varying opinions in Florida on dealing with COVID-19 is a challenge.
We have a full concert schedule, including two Messiahs, two Holiday programs, as well as four additional concerts between January and March. In addition, we have a concert tour planned for April and May to Britain. Our regular membership totals 75 singers, but we will be utilizing a smaller ensemble(s) of 36 - 40 singers throughout, which allows us to space our people apart.
We have found that the local community has gathered support for the group, and we have already seen an increase in giving, especially to our Scholarship Program.
Mark Calonico, President
The Stockton Chorale completed five virtual concerts during the 2020-2021 season.
We lost about 50% of our singers who disliked the Zoom environment and/or recording their singing at home. In consultation with our local public health agency, we installed air filters in our rehearsal venue, asked for vaccination verification from all singers and employees, and require masks and social distancing of 6 feet between all singers. We have about 80% of our singers returning this fall.
This year, all the conductors are selecting music that is more representative of the underrepresented members of our community. For live audiences, all students and children attend concerts free of charge, and we distribute Family Passes that reduce the cost of admission to local school districts.
We have six concerts scheduled, beginning in October 2021. We are not sure how many will be in front of an audience and how many will be live-streamed, but we are working to find venues with a large enough audience to maintain physical distance.
Chicago Master Singers
This fall, Chicago Master Singers returns to live concerts with the knowledge it gained from a new online “CMS University” during the 18-month COVID hiatus. Our new Music Director, Dr. John C. Hughes, a veteran music educator, presented a weekly series of webinars on a wide variety of choral music topics, some with professional singers and composers as special guests. The programs were streamed live on Chicago Master Singers’ YouTube channel every Monday evening (the same evening the chorus normally rehearses).
“New” is the mantra as CMS enters its 42nd season. In addition to a new director, performances will be held at a new concert venue in Glenview, IL. Rehearsing and performing occur in a new way too, with masks and a vaccination requirement for singers and audience members alike.
This season, along with six in-person concerts, CMS will continue its presence on YouTube with concert previews. Social media outreach will have augmented educational content through highlights of last season’s webinars. In one very formative year, Chicago Master Singers burst into the 2020s with a rich mixture of live and virtual offerings, using multiple platforms and reaching a wider audience of choral music lovers.