By Bethany Kirby
12th March 2020 was the last time we met in person as a choir. On 16th March 2020, we made the necessary decision to postpone our rehearsals indefinitely. It was the most bizarre couple of weeks, when schools shut, we all ‘locked down’ for the first time and everyone’s lives turned on their heads. With choir, as with all aspects of our lives, we had no idea what to expect in the coming weeks and months.
A year on and we are still yet to meet again in person. The ‘year on’ marker has drawn me to reflect on this most unexpected time for us as a choir. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a sadness at the opportunities missed – not only two concerts and our annual weekend away, but the weekly joy of meeting together to sing, hearing the harmonies coming together, sharing tea and cake at the break, and feeling the buzz in the room after a song well sung.
But I hope I’m also not alone in feeling a huge sense of pride in what we have managed to achieve. We’ve got our heads around Zoom (more or less!) and are regularly getting 40 or more of us together online each Thursday evening. We’ve had 22 online rehearsals to date and have learnt a whole range of new songs…who knows whether we’re all singing quite the same notes, but we’re certainly trying our best! I remember, when planning as a music team for our early Zoom rehearsals, that we sometimes worried about having enough content to fill a 1-hour rehearsal (even with a pause at 8pm when we all dashed outside to “clap for carers”!). Now, we’ve extended our rehearsals to 1hr15 and often feel we don’t have enough time for everything we’d like to do!
We’ve had 11 online sing-alongs, some of them themed, giving us time we’ve never had before to revisit lots of our old repertoire and remember many highlights of concerts past. We’ve held 3 online workshops – on vocal technique, choreography and sign language – led by amazing former Sing! members who we’ve invited back to share their skills with us. We’ve created 5 virtual choir videos, with everyone recording separately at home and sharing their enthusiastic, heartfelt and often ‘unique’ takes to be pieced together! The first of these now has well over 2,000 views on YouTube (fun fact: this makes it our 9th most popular YouTube video; the most popular by far – somewhat surprisingly to me! – is a simple but cheery version of Barbara Ann which we sang in 2015, with almost 14,000 views!).
We put on an online Christmas cabaret evening, where choir members shared a whole range of creative talents, making us laugh and cry in equal measure. We’ve had 7 online socials, craft evenings and quizzes, as well as going to the ‘virtual pub’ every week after rehearsals. In the early days, these pub trips yielded some unique group artwork too, thanks to the Zoom whiteboard! In the first lockdown, we also launched ‘Sing! Does Desert Island Discs’ on Facebook and enjoyed seeing a post from a different choir member each day, sharing one of their favourite songs and why it’s important to them. You can revisit all the posts here if you’re part of our Facebook group (there are some fabulous stories and memories!) and listen to a playlist of many of the songs here.
Meeting online has one obvious benefit – “there’s no commute to Zoom choir!” We’ve seen old Sing! members who’ve moved away from Cambridge pop in to join us (the furthest all the way from America!); we’ve had current members logging in from Italy, Scotland, Yorkshire, Cornwall; and we’ve had several adorable babies stealing the show as their mums grab the chance to take part! We’ve also welcomed brand new members to the choir and can’t wait til we can actually meet you all in person too!
Although the pandemic has often felt like a time of deprivation, and there’s no doubt that singing on Zoom is not the same as singing in-person, I think this experience has in many ways strengthened our sense of community. I’ve chatted to people I’ve not spoken to before in pub breakout rooms. Every rehearsal is accompanied by a lively chat thread where we can share observations and comments that we might not say out loud if we were rehearsing together. And, hopefully, we’ve even learnt lots more names, thanks to that handy little box at the bottom of each square! To those members who haven’t been able to join us on Zoom – we haven’t forgotten you; we love to see you commenting on our videos or popping up on Facebook and we can’t wait until the time is right for you to sing with us again too.
So many people have stepped up in different ways to help make this year of Sing! possible – song leaders, part-teachers, warm-up volunteers, video editors, quiz-makers, Zoom hosters…you are all brilliant! In particular, I’d like to say a special thank you to my fellow music team members – Naomi, Jane and Diana. Rarely do a couple of days go by without us exchanging thoughts, plans and ideas for Sing! Taking choir online has been a real challenge, and a lot of often unseen work goes into delivering a session each week, plus all the other bits around it, and trying to keep things fresh and fun. You are stars!
So here’s to the next year, whatever it may bring – Sing! will be here, and I hope our shared community, friendship, joy and song will see us all through it together 💗