Scroll back just five weeks, to early March, and the La Chât Community Choir was full steam ahead with rehearsals, not only for scheduled performances at June’s Geneva and Nyon Fêtes de la Musique, but also for a pre-summer performance of ‘Fauré’s Requiem’ with a visiting choir from London.
We all know what the next chapter in the story should have been – choir rehearsals, like all other group activities, put into hibernation, once the Covid-19 restrictions came into force. That would have been the easy thing to do, however, something quite different actually happened – almost overnight, the choir reinvented itself, engaging technology, and not a little ingenuity, to become a virtual entity. Choral Leader, Rachel Harris Lindop, responded in her usual tongue-in-cheek fashion to my question regarding where the inspiration came from for this transformation – ‘They forced me! I wanted a break from them to be honest!’ (Which roughly translates as ‘The choir were keen to find a way to continue to rehearse together, despite the restrictions, and I was only too delighted to oblige.’!)
Rachel Harris Lindop and Peter Ungphakorn
‘We looked at other musicians’ work in isolation, including choirs, and wondered if we could do something similar’, says Peter (Bass). It seems that the choir felt that the benefits gained from the act of singing and from coming together as a community, would be more important than ever at this time of crisis. ‘I thought that it was a great idea to keep up singing and connected on a common uplifting project, and to brighten our thoughts during these complicated times’. (Naomi, Tenor) ‘I was happy at the thought of the social contact, albeit virtual, and I cancelled the online order for mind-altering drugs!’ (Richard, Bass)
So the idea of a virtual choir was born, but how to translate the idea into reality? ‘Just as we were contemplating the technicalities’, says Glenn (Bass), ‘a message was circulated by the PTA saying that they had invested in Zoom Pro for virtual meetings with parents. It didn’t take much to convince the PTA that the choir could also use the technology, and, one week post-lockdown, we were back at our usual Thursday night rehearsals.’
‘Almost usual’ might be a better description. The numbers of members attending rehearsals were same as for in-person rehearsals, demonstrating a real desire to keep singing. (This included tenor Helen, who had moved to Tanzania a month earlier.) However, that’s where the similarities ended. Due to sound delays on Zoom (‘sometimes known as latency’, according to Peter), the choir’s voices couldn’t synchronise properly when singing together. The solution? To do all singing during rehearsals in ‘mute’ mode! According to Rachel, ‘muting’ is an aspect of the virtual choir which she would love to continue post-restrictions – ‘It really is very peaceful!’ Joking aside, she added that ‘the challenges forced us to be creative with how we use our time, besides having a virtual chat and drinking wine! Hence we came up with the idea of making recordings of some of our current repertoire.’
Rehearsal time is now used for warm-ups, catch-ups, and run-throughs of some of the more technical aspects of the music and of recording. Choir members then record their own part, in isolation, before submitting to Rachel and Peter to be combined into a harmonious whole by means of technical wizardry.
But how did choir members respond to this totally different way of working? It seems that most were daunted to begin with, finding it very strange to sing alone when used to singing in a group, and also odd to hear their own voice in isolation. Many commented that they felt somewhat exposed – there was ‘nowhere to hide’ and mistakes which might be buried in communal singing, were pretty obvious solo voce. An unexpected upside was that many felt that their singing had improved through the process of recording – ‘I felt obliged to practice, and realised, when walking my dog, that my voice was ten times better than usual!’ (Leo, Bass)
And the outcome? Within three weeks of its reinvention as a virtual unit, La Chât Community Choir produced its first recording. Fittingly, the song chosen was ‘True Colours’, which contains the line ‘…all beautiful, like a rainbow’ – particularly poignant, given that, in many countries, a rainbow is the symbol of support for health workers during the Covid crisis.
The recording has already received some lovely remarks from choir friends – ‘J’ai le sourire et les larmes aux yeux; c’est beautiful’
‘Heart-warming. Where there is uncertainty, let there be joy! Stay well and connected, and replace the current global discord with harmony…..note by note.’
Choir members themselves were pleasantly surprised by the finished piece, given their earlier apprehensions – ‘I feel pretty good about the sound of our voices.’ (Silke, Alto) ‘Peter and Rachel did a fabulous job of stitching us all together. (Fiona, Soprano).
And will the choir stay virtually connected? ‘Absolutely’, says Rachel, ‘We are inspired to move on to recording a new song, which we have never rehearsed together in the flesh, so we have upped the challenge!’
En Bref looks forward to hearing the outcome.
For more information on the Choir contact Rachel on – firstname.lastname@example.org
By: Olive Fenton