A 2020-21 Choir Recap by Ruben Piirainen, Music Director
There are many so reasons to sing in a church choir. There is the gratification of blending voices to create beautiful harmonies, there is the calling to share one’s talents in the service of ministry, and there is the desire to be a part of a community. This past church year has lifted up the importance of each of these reasons in new and unexpected ways.
The pandemic hit us hard toward the end of the 2019-2020 church year. The choir typically sings at one or two services in May and then takes a break during the summer until rehearsals resume sometime around Labor Day. I sensed that we were not quite ready or willing to go our separate ways in May, so I continued holding virtual choir meetings once a week throughout the summer as a way to simply stay connected.
Our meetings took on a much different form than our live meetings, both because we didn’t know how to perform as an online-only community, and the act of rehearsing live is impossible on platforms such as Zoom, where each user experiences microseconds of latency that render precision ensemble singing impossible. Instead, our meetings took the form of a kind of informal support group, where we shared stories about our weekly experiences and feelings about the pandemic, while also getting to know each other in deeper ways by having focused discussions about our interests and life experiences.
There was some singing, too — mostly hymns, at first. Each choir member would mute themselves in the Zoom meeting and sing along with whatever I was playing. The effect was really nothing like a choir rehearsal because each singer only heard themselves and me, but we were still able to sing a little bit.
I also took the opportunity during this time to offer singers the chance to go deeper in their understanding of music theory. I offered a weekly half-hour session prior to the main choir meeting in which we explored concepts like solfege, ear training, and basic music theory. This May, four of our singers “graduated” from this course with a final exam they had to perform in front of their peers. I’m so proud of them!
In the fall, we discovered that we had a huge asset hiding in plain sight among us. Our own alto, Hayley German Fisher, has a talent and passion for creating music videos. Suddenly, there emerged a way that the choir could prepare songs for Sunday worship and other events even while the church remained 100% online. The process of creating these videos is a rather interesting and involved one. It begins with “rehearsing” the music online. I would make complete video recordings of me singing each voice part along with the accompaniment and post them to my Google Drive. Each singer would download the score and the rehearsal video and practice at home. There was a deadline at which the singer had to submit a video of themselves singing their part. They would wear headphones so their videos would include only their voice (and not mine or the piano part). They had to juggle multiple devices, one for playback of my video, and one for recording their video. Once they had a video they were happy with, they sent it to Hayley, who then compiled each individual video into an artful presentation of all singers along with the accompaniment. I’m so grateful to Hayley for her artistic collaboration this past church year, and I’m extremely grateful to our intrepid choir singers who learned how to use new forms of technology to do their work.
And now, we had our final choir meeting of the year on May 4. We are finally taking a well-deserved choir vacation for the summer. At our meeting on May 4, which we held outdoors at UUCW, fully masked, we sat in a semi-circle around two monitors that I set up on music stands. We watched all of the videos we had produced during the church year, and I said a silent prayer of thanks that the church Wi-Fi worked so well outside. It felt like a wonderful and cathartic experience — having poured so much of ourselves into these videos, to finally have the chance to be in each other’s company to share them together.
With any luck, we will return to having live choir rehearsals at some point in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, we are mindful first and foremost of everyone’s safety. I am always happy to talk to people about joining the choir, so please reach out to me (or any of our choir members) with any questions.
UUCW Music Director