Our Musical Director, Catherine Field-Leather, writes about the challenges and opportunities that the lockdown has presented for Harrogate Theatre Choir.
“Singing provides a true sense of lightheartedness.
If I sing when I am alone, I feel wonderful. It’s freedom.”
– Andrea Bocelli
As the pandemic unfolded, I was passionate to ensure that my choirs would continue to thrive. Hence, the DISTANSING project was born. HTC’s ten year celebration recording was made just days before the national lockdown, and mothballing was a poor sequel. It seemed important to maintain the normal slot of Thursday evenings, at the usual time, to emulate normality. The new normal structure for a Zoom choir soon evolved. Choir members’ enthusiasm and dedication to HTC was shown right from the start. Over time, our technical team have ensured that the rehearsals, from hosting to mute protocol (avoiding a cacophony of delayed sound) and magically moving singers around our virtual practice rooms, soon seemed familiar enough to allow the music to once again take centre stage.
Over the weeks, the structure of rehearsals has come together as singers have become braver. As normal, we begin with the all-important vocal warm-ups, breathing techniques, and vocal exercises. Oddly, Zoom has facilitated a more personal way of working, bringing singers closer. Breakout rooms enables me to roam and rehearse the SATB groups.
Zoom rehearsals have promoted independence, and created a conflate of people and voices who might not normally mix. People help each other, thus enlivening group dynamics. This will hopefully continue out of lockdown. This process has provided me with a far more intimate knowledge of individual voices, allowing tailored guidance within mini workshops. For many, this feels a more personal, individual singing experience, and I have been delighted at the resulting confidence.
A lot of my time is spent recording the practice and backing accompaniment click tracks, which play an even greater role than ever before for singers’ personal development (and singers really are practicing!). Keen to still introduce new material, my aim was, and is, to maintain a real sense of purpose. Not simply process, but with the goal of creating virtual performances.
Singers do miss the interaction of singing together. Hence the importance of now recording warm-up rounds, which allow people to hear and sing with familiar voices, whilst alone. The enthusiasm shown in recording individually and embracing this new way of working, has been astonishing.
For me, instead of standing in front of real people, I now spend hours alone, wearing headphones and staring at a Mac. Another new normal. Once individual sound files made to a click track are submitted, the fun really begins. After many hours of mixing, editing (and adjusting compression/reverb/ambience/echo etc.), I then add a new piano track. All from my hideaway here in Scotland! Who says HTC is purely a local choir. The addition of videos featuring members at home, edited by choir member Emma, has added a further dimension.
HTC is not just about singing; the social, friendship and fun aspects are all-important too. Whilst currently virtual, rehearsals can hopefully be considered a source of wellbeing and mindfulness; a small window of normality. Numbers attending have been impressive, and I am delighted at the positivity, enthusiasm and tenacity shown by HTC. I am only too aware of the increased intensity of the Zoom format over our conventional sessions – information overload! As many choirs both in the UK and across the world have found, a blossoming of the individual singer has emerged from the current restrictions. Whilst mass gatherings, and normal rehearsals are still some time in the future, a full programme of events, including the CD launch await HTC.
I hope that in retrospect, singers will view this time with positivity, both in individual accomplishment, and as a group brought closer together in a time of distancing.
As Virgil stated, “Let us go singing as far as we go: the road will be less tedious.”