With the sudden move online due to the corona virus pandemic, there have been many fantastic articles about the most successful way to lead rehearsals online and how to best use one’s weekly rehearsal slot to keep members singing and engaged with music during this time of isolation.
Whilst nothing can beat singing together in person, after our first virtual rehearsal we discovered many positives to rehearsing online building on work other choral leaders have been undertaking in the past few weeks and days. Here’s a little about our process thus far which we hope will prove useful to other musical directors, choristers and anyone involved in a choir!
How did it work?
We used Tori Cook’s excellent article (read it here) as a starting point for our new online rehearsal process.
The choir invested in a Zoom business account and we sent the link to our members, giving them the timing of their sectional in advance. We made sure there was a small gap between each sectional to allow for our MD, Michael, to have a quick breather, but also to avoid delays in case of potential technical difficulties.
Our sectionals lasted 40 minutes each where we learned a new song (a new arrangement of ‘What will we do…?’ inspired by this fantastic performance by Joanna Harries and Jess Dandy) and went over some old repertoire - ‘Holding out for a Hero’ - camp, fun and silly. We wanted to do something serious and new so we could focus on the process of teaching new repertoire, but also give our members something to really have fun with and sing something familiar.
In each of these sectionals we had a warm up, spent the majority of the session learning the new arrangement (mainly ‘note-bashing’), and then went over our older repertoire in which we examined timbre and vocal quality as, for most of our singers, they were happy with the notes.
What was really vital to the rehearsal’s success was collaboration between the three ‘hosts’: the musical director, the technical ‘host’ and the ‘page turner’.
Michael, our MD, led rehearsal as normal - modeling the vocal lines, playing the harmony alongside the lines, etc, whilst Ben - our technical host - would field any technical queries but, most importantly, would also keep an eye on musical and vocal questions coming in. Michael would check in with Ben every so often to see if there were any questions from members - this allowed Michael to focus on teaching the repertoire quickly and efficiently without having to keep on checking the chat box.
During this, a member of our music team, Tom, was in control of the screen in which we featured whatever score we were working on, following the score and virtually turning pages for our members. Some members opted to have their own paper scores, however many found the score on the screen more useful. Ben would also be in charge of muting and unmuting members as appropriate giving Michael even more opportunity to focus on delivery.
After these sectionals our chair, Ed, did announcements as usual. This was followed by a group singalong!
As part of last Sunday’s rehearsal (21st March), Michael had two members of the choir join him in his flat and - at a safe distance - they sang in harmony through the repertoire the choir had practised in sectionals, so they could hear how it sounded and also give choir members an opportunity to sing a long in harmony. This was followed with existing repertoire in three parts that many of the choir are familiar with and that they could also sing along to. Of course at the time of writing, this now goes against government advice so this section of our rehearsal will be replaced with our MD Michael on piano, playing through the repertoire instead.
What did we do well…?
After each sectional, and the singalong, we asked members for feedback about their experience. Here’s some of the things they said:
It would be even better if…
It’s also good to get feedback to make sure we can offer the best possible experience to our members and here are some thoughts:
Of course so much is up in the air at the moment and we do not know when we will meet again in person as a choir, and what this might look like. Digital rehearsals have many positives, as well as a few drawbacks, but for many this is an excellent opportunity to improve their vocal ability and musical ability in a different way.
We won’t be running a typical ‘rehearsal’ every week as we are using this strange period to offer different developmental opportunities to our members. This may include one on one sessions and individual feedback; webinars on topics such as Dalcroze, music theory, music history, arranging, etc; and exploring new ways of creating music and performance through the tools we have at our disposal.
And our last point is a particularly fascinating one. The impact of working digitally and the inevitable ‘lag’ in software could be seen as an interesting parameter for future arrangements and compositions. We as a choir commission a lot of new work and will be thinking about whether we want to commission a ‘live virtual choir’ piece during this period. Whilst there are obvious limitations working virtually, it opens up a range of new thinking about arranging and composing for choir.
There are already brilliant examples of choirs syncing together and singing existing repertoire (famously ‘You will be Found’ from Dear Evan Hansen, or Whitacre’s Virtual Choir project) but we want to think outside the box.
Could we start writing music and arrangements that do not rely on syncing and could be performed live via Zoom or similar software?
Watch this space!
Artistic Director - The Sunday Boys