Choir leader lockdown stories

The Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown have affected us all. Now we are united not only as choir leaders, but because we are all in the same boat – unable to gather our choirs for rehearsals and performances.

The response from Total Choir Resources members has been nothing short of amazing; an inspiring testament to the love, generosity and belief in singing that we all have.

Times are tough in so many ways. There’s no denying that all our lives have been touched by this pandemic in some way. But thanks to the availability of online video meetings, a new type of choir gathering has emerged which has allowed us to keep our singing communities connected.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing lockdown stories from three of our wonderful Total Choir Resources members.

Kathryn Rowland
Sing! Choirs

At the beginning of lockdown, I have to be honest, I felt distraught. In the space of 24 hours, my husband and I (both self-employed musicians), lost all of our income. It felt like every announcement from the government took one job after another away, until there was nothing else left!

My choir business is called Sing! Choirs and is made up of four groups with 260 members. In addition I’m the director of a music charity All In Sound which run sessions for people living with Dementia and their carers, some of which take place in care homes. Plus I work in a children’s hospice where I organise an annual music festival. It all disappeared. I just kept telling myself that there were lots of other people in far worse situations than me, but I was still distraught.

‘At the beginning of lockdown, I have to be honest, I felt distraught. In the space of 24 hours, my husband and I (both self-employed musicians), lost all of our income.’

As lockdown set in, I couldn’t bear the thought, particularly of my singers living with Dementia not being able to access singing. I could only imagine the isolation and impact for such a vulnerable group. I set about thinking of ways to bring them together then followed suit with my other groups. I started out with YouTube and Facebook but soon decided that Zoom was a better platform for what I wanted to achieve.

As a member of Total Choir Resources I am grateful for all the support and help. I have used some of the warm-ups to revive mine as well as some of the songs available. I love how everyone is so supportive of each other and kind with their words.

My first sessions on Zoom were very much about getting the tech sorted and making sure everyone was all set up. I had to invest in a few key pieces of tech including a microphone, sound card and lots of leads! My workplace choir found the transition the easiest as they were used to using Zoom for meetings, so they knew more than me! I had to do some one-to-one sessions with some members to get set up but it was worth it.

‘I have had to be creative in the ways that I deliver sessions as how I’d work in person only works to some extent online.’

I’m proud to say I can now video edit having never done it before, well to some degree anyway! I wrote a song called A Calmer Place to Be and made a video of my choirs singing it to raise money for two charities. The process isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t matter as long as everyone who wants to has a go and sends their recordings as best they can!

I have had to be creative in the ways that I deliver sessions as how I’d work in person only works to some extent online. In general we do a lot less learning and much more singing. I am currently creating videos of me singing all the song parts so people can see how they fit together.

I watch our Zoom recordings afterwards and love seeing people’s faces which you can miss when you are concentrating on leading a session – the smiles, the dancing, the funny moments, they are really nice to see. Also knowing that your choir members are supporting you and believe in you and what you are trying to do keeping everyone together in some way means so much.

For other choir leaders reading this I’d say keep singing! I always told my choirs when this started in February that I wouldn’t stop singing until someone told me to and no-one has yet, so I will keep singing! In fact, I am probably singing more than ever with all the videos and recordings I’m doing!

Stay strong and believe that what you are doing is making a difference – people so look forward to having a sing each week even though it is all a bit different right now.

Mike Rawlinson
St Luke’s Hospice Singers, Basildon Essex

The members of St Luke’s Hospice Singers are staff, patients and their families. They would admit that they are not the most accomplished of singers, however every session involves great fellowship and fun and with lots of patience we manage to learn three part songs. We all look forward to it so come Monday 23rd March a big hole suddenly appeared in everyone’s lives …. lockdown.

I received so many comments from choir members about how they were missing their Monday evening get-togethers. What to do? What is this Zoom thing that everyone seems to be talking about on Total Choir Resources?

‘In normal times the choir is an escape for so many of its members. This includes hospice staff who do stressful “front-line” work.’

My first Zoom experience was a conversation with a choir leader who had done it. From there I learnt the settings and decided to take the plunge with my first choir gathering – I hesitate to call it a practice! We tried the song Thank you for the Music (ironic) with un-muted mics and it was mayhem with different broadband speeds etc, total chaos but much laughter and smiles. We agreed we would do it again.

In the cold light of day, I thought everyone would be thinking differently but no; so here I am now making the ‘rehearsal’ plan for Zoom session number 9!

In normal times the choir is an escape for so many of its members. This includes hospice staff who do stressful “front-line” work in normal times, which is only heightened at the moment with some working on the Coronavirus Bereavement Helpline.

We have Dementia patients and their carers for whom the normal daily pressures have been magnified many times over. We have bereaved relatives of patients and we have volunteers all coming together in the choir.

‘Since lockdown so many have said to me that the Monday evening Zoom sessions are a much anticipated and awaited highlight of the week.’

Since lockdown so many have said to me that the Monday evening Zoom sessions are a much anticipated and awaited highlight of the week, once more proving the many benefits of singing in a choir.

One final thought on a Zoom lesson learnt – the use of virtual backgrounds. It just adds another touch, another distraction to lift everyone’s spirits. For our VE Day inspired session I ‘conducted’ ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ with a back-drop of the Royal Albert Hall in London, surely I am allowed my dreams and escape too?

Liz Norris
Inner Wheel District 5 Choir

The ladies in our choir are all members of Inner Wheel, an international women’s organisation who rehearse between late September and early March. Each year we prepare for three events – our Christmas meeting, a church service on International Inner Wheel Day and our district lunch and rally in March attended by our Association President and other districts.

Many of our ladies live alone and are shielding or self-isolating so I decided to offer some Zoom choir sessions whilst we were in lockdown. This has been very much a learning curve for me.

‘Many of our ladies live alone and are shielding or self-isolating.’

I have found that it is best to offer something I could comfortably manage rather than be too clever or ambitious. From the outset, I decided using my keyboard was just another item to contend with on Zoom so found it best to record any rehearsal tracks in advance for use in the Zoom session, or for the choir to practise at home if they so wished.

I started off just using my laptop and playing any tracks through that but when I played back the recording, I found the music was distorted and a bit tinny. My choir were very good about it, feeling it was more important to see each other regularly and have the opportunity of knowing we were singing together, even if we could not hear each other.

Becoming a Total Choir Resources member during lockdown was just what I needed.

Immediately things changed. I took part in the masterminds and found that my first step was to get a good microphone which would plug into my laptop. On recommendation, I bought a Blue Yeti microphone and was delighted when the choir said they could hear me much better. I also got a good set of headphones which I then plugged into the microphone. I also use the warm-ups from the membership plus some of the songs made available to us, including the sheet music and rehearsal tracks. A wonderful resource.

‘Becoming a Total Choir Resources member during lockdown was just what I needed.’

As for our Zoom sessions, my choir are certainly playing their part! Sometimes, one or two decide to wear their choir scarves. In Easter week we sang ‘In My Easter Bonnet’ and I suggested they all wore hats. For VE Day I chose a couple of appropriate songs and some came on screen with Union Jacks. Last week we had a flowers theme and sang along to ‘In An English Country Garden’ plus ‘Tulips from Amsterdam’. Without warning, hats and tulips appeared!

Over the weeks, I have changed my own thoughts of how to run the choir during the Lockdown period. I think my choir just want to have a good sing so we are not learning many pieces. We begin and end each session with a well- known song which is always jolly because when the meeting ends, so many of them are on their own.

The Choir and I are really benefiting from my membership of Total Choir Resources and I particularly like the quick response to any questions asked. It is also helpful asking questions in the Community and getting ideas from others.

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