After an intense rehearsal period in the first two weeks of March, the TSO Chorus was in fine voice and looking forward to performing Brahms’ wonderful Ein Deutsches Requiem to a full house in the federation concert hall.
Alas, this was not to be. The 14 March performance did take place, with musicians in full concert dress, but to an empty hall. Half way through, I thought how wonderfully quiet the audience was that night, with not a single cough or shuffle. Then I remembered that, other than a recording technician, no-one was in the hall.
Since then our chorus master, June Tyzack, has been energetically and creatively designing ways and means to keep the chorus on its collective toes as we endeavour to sing our way through this prolonged period of isolation. It has been a very steep learning curve for many – for not only has the chorus had to adjust to social isolation (a concept anathema to a chorister) we are also adapting to the challenges of online rehearsing.
Initially, twenty minute blocks of two choristers, a pianist and a ‘technical’ assistant met as usual in the TSO studio – maintaining the required physical distancing between each other. Those two would sing a nominated excerpt of music from La Traviata and the rest of the chorus, safely isolated in their own homes, would watch, listen and where possible, sing along via Zoom. This posed considerable challenges regarding bandwidth, broadband access, audio and visual quality, etc., etc. and after a couple weeks of Zoomed sectional rehearsals with volunteer pairs of appropriately distanced choristers working with June, we moved out of the Studio and onto YouTube.
Unfortunately, trying to record everyone singing at once over multiple video links meant that we sounded like someone had taken an old fashioned egg beater to the sound – curse you latency.
Since then each week June explores how best to keep us together both musically and socially.
A total of 50 or more choristers now join in the two hour online ‘rehearsal’ held each Tuesday evening. In preparation for this, each chorister records him or herself (audio/video) singing to a prerecorded piano accompaniment on Dropbox. The resulting video recording is then sent to a member of the bass section who endeavours to combine the collective efforts of our individual contributions and put it into a ‘virtual choir’. Each Tuesday evening we enter the Zoom rehearsal room from the safety of our smart devices various and after a cacophony of ‘hellos’ etc all the online participants mute their microphones and sing along at home.
It’s certainly not a patch on being able to meet together, but it does keep the momentum and connection between a large group of choral enthusiasts going.
Morale remains high and our combined technical know how, as well as our individual confidence, is improving greatly from week to week. Zoom, YouTube and DropBox are now part of the daily routine and, ‘if music be the food of love’, we are certainly well fed!
Helen, from the tenor section, even penned a verse describing the experience (to be sung to the familiar Gilbert & Sullivan tune of I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General)
I am the very model of a COVID-19 chorister
No longer driving to rehearsals in my nice blue Forrester.
I’ve loaded Zoom and got my score and pencils multifarious;
I’ve balanced my work laptop in a place that’s quite precarious.
I’ve banged out notes on piano keys, but some were accidental ones,
I hope that we won’t sing alone in front of some judgemental ones;
But now we’re live, I find that I start feeling quite affectional
And here I sing, with all the other people in my sectional.
So for your amusement and enjoyment, here are two videos. The first is of me trying to get a recording right. The second isn’t perfect and I’ve definitely decided that I don’t like recording myself, but at least I managed to get from the beginning to the end without stopping.