Like groups all over the world my choir, Notorious, has had to cancel forthcoming rehearsals and concerts for at least the next couple of months.
It was only at the start of this year at our first January rehearsal when a number of my singers came up to me to express how much they had looked forward to coming back to choir after Christmas and how important to their life weekly choir rehearsals were.
So it was no surprise to me that this week on Tuesday 17th, on what would have been a normal rehearsal night, when we trialled our first online, coronavirus defying rehearsal that we had a great turnout and even a few old members who have moved away joined in!
I know lots of people are starting up new choirs that bring 100s of disparate people from around the world together and they can only hear the choir leader and themselves (a very honourable way forward) . This is not what I’m talking about here – we want to maintain the established relationships of our choir and actually find ways to sing together and connect in a genuinely interactive way.
I’ve had countless people wanting me to tell them how it went and what we learned so here goes…
- We did one hour on Google hangouts meets, everyone logged on successfully using a link we sent them. That was the first relief! Instead of watching people coming into the room I could see their faces and names popping up on my screen one after another.
- We had a mini meeting about how we wanted to keep meeting whatever it takes online and we all agreed to keep trying until we found a solution
- I led some physical warm ups with everyone on mute except for me (it took some members longer to figure out the muting than others – but we got there in the end).
- Then I led some singing warm ups that I do that don’t require people to be in time with each other – we did these with everyone’s mics on and it was a great test of how many voices you could hear at once. The warm up is supposed to highlight some voices at different times and it was clear that different timbres of voices (some of the men’s voices for example) were picked up better by hangouts than others.
- Then we tried some singing together of a piece we all know. The latency of the sound (the time lag) between people meant it didn’t work -but we had fun trying!
- We then had a comfort break and did 40 mins on Zoom and tried the same piece. Some more success here but still not possible to get the sounds together – or get a satisfactory sound.
- Lots of learning done. We can warm up together, even sing in a limited and experimental way (one of our members is a composer and is considering writing a piece especially for Zoom!)
- We are trying again next week in our planned rehearsal slot – and in between now and then I am testing a number of other platforms with small groups of the choir (our trusty committee!).
- We are going to experiment with having sectionals online using learning tracks – so sending a separate link to each voice part with learning tracks so they can learn together – then come together as a whole choir and singing along with a backing track (but only hearing ourselves).
- We might try some vocal technique lessons – and even invite guest speakers in…
- We are going to look at phone conference calling to see if the latency is less – while having a video option live and silent on our computers….
- We are going to try and make music for about an hour a week and then have another 30-60 mins of social activity online (like name that tune, or notation bingo), designed each week by different members of the choir.
Whatever happens we are going to meet each week, catch up, sing and have some fun together. It won’t be exactly the same as being in the same room – but we will get as close as we can.
My phone was filled with messages of thanks afterwards from members who had found the whole experience uplifting and encouraging. So we won’t be giving up on this approach any time soon!
Oh and I tried online conducting… (it didn’t work!)