Choirs in the time of COVID

I often participate in Linda Hill‘s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. Her last prompt was “song.” The instruction was to “find a picture–the closest one to you. Your prompt is the title and/or the lyrics of the first song that comes to mind when you look at the picture.”

I couldn’t manage to follow the instruction – my brain doesn’t work that way – but thoughts about song have been flooding my consciousness for the last couple of days.

I can’t remember the first song I sang, but singing has been an important part of my life, especially choral singing. Decades of it. Most of it has been associated with schools or church. It has been my privilege to sing some of the great choral works of Western music. I love singing Bach; my background as an organist probably influences that. My favorite large work to sing is Brahms’ Requiem, in German, of course.

I’ve written sorrowfully of the probable demise of University Chorus due to a re-organization of the choral program at Binghamton. At the time, I never dreamed that choral singing itself would be on indefinite pause.

It turns out that singing is a high-risk activity to spread coronavirus. A choir rehearsal, with lots of people singing in close quarters indoors, can easily become a super-spreader event. While some churches have begun re-opening, they cannot safely have their choirs sing. They can’t even have their congregations sing. The thought of returning to church but having to stay silent is more than I can bear.

Nine years ago, I made my first trip to Europe as part of the Smith College Alumnae Chorus. We sang the Mozart Requiem in Sicily. I have sung with the SCAC in several on-campus events, as well as last year’s tour of Slovenia. Any planning for future events is on hold, not knowing what conditions we will be facing over the next couple of years.

Someday, some year, there will be widespread vaccine and/or effective treatment for COVID-19 and singing in groups will again be reasonably safe. I hope that choral organizations manage to survive so that they can reconvene and make music together again. I hope that I, then in my sixties, will be considered young enough, healthy enough, and mellifluous enough to join in.

singing again

Last night, for the first time in over a year, I went to a (Binghamton) University Chorus rehearsal.

I have written posts before on the changes in the choral program* and the University which necessitated the transformation of what had for decades been a large chorus of community members, students, and staff which sang a major concert every semester into a much smaller ensemble that sings when needed to help the student groups perform larger works.

This semester, we are preparing to sing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, which I performed once before with University Chorus in 2003. This piece is being programmed a lot this year because of the bicentennial of the birth of Walt Whitman, whose poems comprise most of the text of the work. As luck would have it, the Smith College Alumnae Chorus is also singing the work this year; I will be joining our July tour to Slovenia, where we will sing two performances.

Most of my singing for the past year has been either in church services or with ABC, whom I can sometimes sing to sleep. Not exactly the caliber of singing required for Vaughn Williams. Fortunately, our director, Bill Culverhouse, is very good at getting our bodies and brains engaged, so I actually managed to acquit myself quite well, helped by the fact that we worked on the third movement, “Reconciliation”, in which we second sopranos get to sing a lovely, lyrical passage twice. It’s also one of the movements that stayed with me over the last decade and a half since I learned it. Some of the other sections are going to be a bit harder to get back in my head.

It is also hard to get used to rehearsing with a much smaller group. I was used to University Chorus being 80-100 voices and being one of about fifteen second sopranos. It’s somewhat more daunting to be one of five seconds in a group of about thirty. I anticipate doing a significant amount of preparation at home, as I did when we sang music related to St. Mark’s in Venice in December 2017.

I was very happy to see some of my singing friends again. And even happier to be singing together again.

* In looking back at this post, which explains a lot of my experience with the transition itself, there are several things that didn’t happen in the way I had anticipated. My mom, who had then been in hospice care, was decertified in October of 2018, and, while continuing to suffer from congestive heart failure, is happily still with us. The visa process for daughter E has been a much longer slog than we had thought. She and ABC are still living with us, probably until August of 2019. Lastly, the University Chorus hiatus was longer, as this academic year we are singing in the second semester rather than the first.
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Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/29/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-29th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/