When the news about a virus starting hitting the streets in and around Byron Bay, Australia, in mid March 2020, I  debated with myself and other singers as to whether we should stop meeting – some people thought it would be fine if we observed the 2 metre distancing. Some people suggested singing outside in the garden, or on the beach. I thought perhaps we could get large fridge storage boxes and sing inside them. I held Big Song in Brunswick Heads and Kingscliff on the 9th and 12th of March – some people still came along and we stood a fair distance apart.

And then came the news of the large choir in Washington that met on the 10th March, observed all precautions, washing hands, standing at a distance. After that rehearsal, apparently 45 of the 60 participants contracted Covid 19, and two people died. Well. That was a sobering bit of information.

At that point I dont remember anyone saying that this virus could be contracted via the air – although it makes sense now –  but at the time all the information was around washing hands, not shaking hands, not touching your face – it was all about touch.

We have been extremely lucky up til now, in this part of the world, with only 56 cases (up to 30 April).

But as the restrictions begin to relax slightly, with two people now allowed to visit another household – Im beginning to wonder how long it will be before we can meet to sing again. It seems to me that large groups of people  congregating will not be happening for quite a while – so audiences, festivals, large markets, church services – and CHOIR SINGING.

And so if we want to meet and sing, it looks like online is the only option.

Here are the things that are working:

  1. Zoom is fun – as long as you have good internet. There are a few features of the platform that work well, once you’ve sorted out the sound –  virtual backdrop, break out rooms, sharing screens, the chat section – being able to focus on your voice – and move and be silly and actually hear yourself.
  2. It’s great to have a chance to check in with each other.
  3. It’s fun bringing singing into your own home environment, and some people are encouraging husbands, wives, kids, friends to join in from home.
  4. We are all learning how to communicate more honestly and take our time with each and sing longer – online before was a convenient way to communicate quickly and efficiently – a curt text message, a direction, a request – but now our need for deeper connection is being felt, and we can really take our time online. I wonder if we are getting better at listening! Because it’s pretty hard to interrupt in an online interaction! You really have to decide if it’s worth it.

Here are the challenges:

  1. Need good internet – it is so disheartening and downright boring when the screen freezes mid warble – or the sound is not clear. I have been quietly and carefully going to a friend’s place because I discovered how unstable my internet connection is.
  2. Some people really dont want to join in online – and I really get it – but as time marches on I’m finding people are starting to give it a go. The new normal, and all of that.
  3. Obviously there’s no touching, hugging, getting up close and personal – no feeling the vibrations and the harmony from singing that quickly become addictive when you engage in singing in groups.

Like all choir leaders, I am pondering how to make this online reality more meaningful, interesting and engaging. Long notes are good. Call and response works. Singing with backing tracks is fun. Having a dance break in the middle of a session is great.  I find myself writing new material and teaching it, trying things out, encouraging people to write their own songs.

I have also started a little project collecting stories about how people started singing, and what it means to them – and sharing those stories with each other.

Ive also connected with old friends who are also running online choirs – Christina Mimmochi in Sydney, Kate Swadling the Blue Mountains and Suze Pratten Richmond/Brunswick Heads – we meet online to share ideas, tips, repertoire, stories.

I have also been online with singers in the UK, and Circle singers in Paris, to check out what they are doing. It’s a really interesting time for us all – and though we all miss the buzz of singing together, this online stuff is quite a grand adventure!

After all,  we could be doing this for some time to come! And even when more restrictions lift, we might find ourselves doing what they have done in Kerala, India  – issuing people with large colourful umbrellas! I can already imagine a beautiful choreographed performance.

So people, dont forget, you can join me and others every Monday and Friday at 9.30 am via zoom. Send me your email address and I’ll add you to the mailing list. I’ll be doing these classes by donation up until the end of May, and after that, depending on where we are at, you’ll need to book and pay $50 for a 5 week course.