If I cannot fly, then let me sing

Photo of Buckden Singers (pre-covid) courtesy of the author

Choirs and covid don’t mix. Before it was really a thing, we decided to halt rehearsals (for a short while we thought) until things became clearer. But droplets versus aerosols, social distancing, meeting in public areas and the rule of six soon made choral singing a thing of the past.

A community choir of over 40 people, many of them vulnerable, has been a significant part of our Yorkshire Dales community for the last 13 years. We enjoy singing and preparing for concerts which are appreciated and well attended by a local, national and even an international following. However, this is not our principal purpose.

Rural communities as isolated as ours is must make their own entertainment and create a distinctive social life and support network. Buckden Singers is an important part of this. A weekly get together is a significant part of the lives of many of us: learning new material stretches our mental capacity, breathing correctly helps the lungs and heart, laughing together lifts our spirits, a weekly commitment gives focus to what may otherwise be a lonely and solitary week, and producing music of high quality raises our sense of pride and self-esteem. All of these were and still are threatened.

We have happily found ways of continuing our weekly rehearsals and get togethers. It is not for everyone and we have lost temporarily about ten members; we have, however, gained others, so we number around 30 in total. We rehearse virtually via Zoom. Latency (when sound travel is delayed) makes singing together impossible, but we have not been deterred. To help us to learn new songs, all the voice parts are recorded on instruments and posted online for choir members to access. We then practise together in a virtual rehearsal where we can see everyone but hear no-one. Everyone is muted so we have no idea what others sound like or how it all fits together.

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One of our number who has become housebound during lockdown is supported by our ‘technician’, setting her up each week with the wherewithal both to join rehearsals and to contribute to recordings – an important part of her week. We also support anyone who might struggle either technically or musically. We then record individual tracks ourselves using the same backing track and all is magically mixed by a local freelance professional, Richard Reeday, who is very generous with his time.

Hey presto a four-part rendition of the piece we have practised. We then match with visuals and load on to YouTube. Our first foray into virtual singing was to support Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival which again had itself moved online. Our first virtual concert provided a new piece every day for nine days. This was our piece for the final day:

Our Christmas concert is being prepared as I write. Of course, it’s not the same. We miss the banter, the hugs, collective pride when we perform well, the parties, the live finished product … but it’s better than not singing at all. In this way we can keep our community choir going until such time as we can meet properly again.

A positive mindset during this pandemic is hard; singing, despite covid, helps just a little bit.

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