Our last concert ended with Bach’s quietly contemplative motet O Jesu Christ mein’s Lebens Licht, and although we had no idea back in November 2019 of what was about to come, the memory of singing this sublime piece together has provided some sustenance through these dark and silent months. We’ve not been entirely silent though, so we’d like to tell you a little bit about what we’ve been doing.
Over the year, like many other groups, we’ve been able to get together regularly on Zoom. We started by sharing music, chatting and making quizzes, as well as doing a few gentle warm ups just to keep the vocal engines ticking over. As time went on and we realised that we were going to be in this situation for a long time, we started to think about how we could do some proper singing. We can’t sing together on Zoom – the time delay makes it impossible – so instead, we have been singing along to recordings, allowing ourselves to imagine that we all sound like the Monteverdi Choir or The Sixteen. We also enjoyed a guest workshop with vocal coach Pippa Anderson, who gave us lots of tips on how to keep our voices healthy so that we can get properly ‘back into the sing of things’ when the time comes.
Autumn offered us a brief window for live rehearsals. Armed with facemasks, sanitiser, tape measures and a hefty risk assessment, a small group of us ventured into St Cuthbert’s Chapel at Ushaw to sing together and record backing tracks for the virtual Christmas carol service that we created with Durham Choral Society and Northern Spirit Singers. We are hugely grateful to Ushaw for their welcome and support, as well as to Making Music and the Association of British Choral Directors for their guidance on how to follow the rules and keep ourselves safe.
The virtual carol service was a project that pushed our technological and creative skills to the limit as we juggled multiple screens and recording devices and then figured out how to transfer huge video files. We balanced phones on precarious piles of books, ironing boards and music stands, but the prize for inventiveness goes to second alto Lotta whose sons created an amazing stand out of Lego to hold her camera in place. Many of us were quite nervous about how we sounded, as we’re not used to having to listen to recordings of our solo voices, but miraculously when it was all patched together by our video editor Jason Thompson, we sounded … like a choir again, and hearing our voices together after such a long time was very moving.
We were also moved by the opportunity to sing once again for the annual Light up a Life service for St Cuthbert’s Hospice, which was streamed from Durham Cathedral. This annual service offers a quiet space for those who are facing Christmas without a loved one, and although there was no congregation in the building this year, it was clear from the comments on the livestream, that, as always, it was a very poignant occasion for many people.
This term, we’ve returned to Bach, studying his motets, with lots of note-bashing help from our Assistant Musical Director, Oliver Morrell. Whilst it’s nothing like a normal rehearsal, our regular Monday Zoom meetings have given us companionship and have motivated us to keep our voices active so that we’ll be ready to go as soon as we’re able to sing for you again.
We wish we could also give you an update about our plans, but at this time, much is still uncertain. We will be exploring the possibility of returning to live rehearsals, which we think may happen in mid-May. If we find that we are able to put on any concerts this year, it is highly likely audience numbers will be limited by social distancing rules, but if you are a subscriber to our mailing list, you’ll will be offered the first opportunity to book tickets – if you’re not already on the list, you can sign up via the link at the bottom of this page.
We are so looking forward to singing for you again and we hope to see you soon.