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Finding positives from the pandemic when your choir finally gets back together

  • [The views expressed in this blog are from my personal experiences from 25 years of leading non-auditioned community choirs in the UK, as well as adult singing workshops. My focus is on teaching by ear using a repertoire of songs from traditions across the globe. Your experiences may differ from mine, so do feel free to leave a comment and let's begin a conversation! A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

     

    It has been said that every setback is an opportunity in disguise. Singing together has had many setbacks during the pandemic and choirs have been affected badly.

     

     

    Here’s how you can turn those obstacles into positives.

     

    The last 16 months have been difficult for choirs all over the world. Various restrictions have been in place at different times which have meant that there hasn’t been business as usual for a long time.

     

    Choirs have been forced to rehearse outdoors, or inside, socially distanced, reduced in numbers and with masks, or at times have only been able to sing online.

     

    For many countries, it looks like most restrictions may be lifted in the near future. But does that mean your choir will go back to ‘normal’?

     

    There is every chance that your choir won’t be the same again, even if you want it to be (see also Will my choir still be there when lockdown is over?). And that may well be a good thing.

     

    Here are eight ways in which your choir might change. Most of these apply equally to choir leaders and to singers.

     

    1. hybrid Zoom/ live rehearsals – many choirs embraced Zoom and other online rehearsal platforms over the last year. When choirs are allowed to sing again in person, it can be a great idea to continue using something like Zoom alongside live rehearsals. The benefits are that rehearsals can be accessible to more people (especially if your rehearsal venue is not fully accessible to wheelchairs, etc.); you get to keep those new singers who are geographically distant from where you rehearse (even those from abroad!); when singers are under the weather or need to stay at home, they can still rehearse with you. And if you record those sessions, singers who weren’t able to attend can catch up easily.

     

    2. use new-found technical skills – many choirs and choir leaders were forced into learning a whole bunch of new technical skills during lockdown: video editing, creating virtual choirs, live-streaming of rehearsals and performances, creating online resources for singers, and so on. Even when choirs are back together in person, these skills may prove valuable. You now have the option of live-streaming concerts; providing online resources and teaching materials for singers; creating new revenue streams for your choir by selling videos, online courses, etc.; making better videos of your concerts; and so on.

     

    3. clean slate – if you’ve had ideas about doing things differently or structuring the choir in new ways, then now is a great time to do it. Sometimes we shy away from making big changes because it’s so disruptive, but after such a long period of not having choir as usual, this is a great opportunity to put new plans into practice. See also Re-booting your choir: shake things up for a new season.

     

    4. fewer singers – you might find that some singers have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps they weren’t able to join you on Zoom and have now found other things to do with their time. This can leave both singers and choir leaders feeling a little wobbly. The balance of voices may have changed and singers might have lost some of their mates. The upside of this is that you’ll be left with a core of passionate, committed singers. Now might also be a chance to consolidate several choirs into one to make the situation more viable. That will surely breathe new life into things.

     

    5. new ways of rehearsing – it’s so easy over the years to become comfortable and familiar with the way rehearsals are run. I’m sure everyone’s encountered the “Excuse me, that’s my seat” complaint. Maybe you always stand next to the same singer in your section each week. The basses might always stand to the left of the tenors. And so on.

     

    However, having been forced to rehearse in different ways over the last year – only six singers allowed indoors; unusual and unexpected rehearsal spaces (e.g. car parks); singers standing two metres apart; rehearsing outdoors – you will have experienced many new ways of rehearsing together.

     

    Being spaced further apart can improve listening skills, blend and increase singers’ focus. Rehearsing in unusual spaces gives rise to many different acoustic and reverb experiences. Having much smaller groups of singers working at any one time is a great opportunity to hone harmony singing skills. Why not take some of these new experiences forward, even though you might be back in your old rehearsal space?

     

    6. changing priorities – the pandemic has been a chance for many people to reflect on how they want to spend their time, work-life balance, new hobbies, etc. It might be that your choir leader doesn’t want to lead choirs any more (but would love to be a singer in someone else’s choir). Or perhaps as a singer, you’ve decided to give choir leading a go. Or maybe you’ve decided to leave the singing world altogether and take up gardening. Whatever it is, don’t feel that you just have to go back to the way it was.

     

    7. review your fee system – many choir leaders are self-employed and have found the last year or so extremely challenging. Normal fee structures may not have worked as the number of singers might have dropped considerably. Or perhaps you’ve found that your income has increased because your online numbers jumped up unexpectedly. You may have run more (or fewer) sessions each week. You may have introduced new fee structures to incorporate those who had lost income. Now that choirs are getting back together, you might find that your venue is charging more (or maybe less). With all the online activity over the last year, people are far more comfortable with paying for things online. Some choir leaders have started using systems like Patreon and Buy me a coffee.

     

    This is a great time to rethink your choir’s fee structures. Singers have been desperate to sing together for such a long time, that perhaps they will be willing to pay that little bit extra. You might have discovered that asking people to pay in advance in blocks works better than taking weekly subs. You might find that you need to charge more realistically to cover loss of income.

     

    8. increased vocal confidence – those singers who joined online choirs found quite quickly that it meant singing on your own at home! This might have been a shock at first, but it has doubtless improved your confidence and made you more comfortable with your singing voice. You may have found a greater range or a new expressive ability as nobody could hear you belting out in your bedroom. Take this new-found confidence back to choir, and who knows where it will lead?

     

     

    I’m sure there are many other positives that I’ve missed. Do drop by and leave a comment if you have any more ideas. And good luck everyone when your choir starts up again!

     

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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