Five Ways to Revitalize Your Pandemic-Weary Choir

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Let’s be real. The world is (finally) starting to come back. Vaccinations are becoming more widely available and by the summer, we may have given shots to the arms of most age-appropriate Americans. And we are so grateful…not a moment too soon, right? This Pandemic has been rough on creative/musical folks in that it feels like we’ve had our mojo blocked for so long we don’t know if it’ll ever flow again. Our morale is low (to say the least), we can’t remember squat, have gained a few pounds (or even the Quarantine 15) and have losed, not used, our voices. I’ve written about the die-hards: choir members in their cars, bundled up with the heat on, singing over wireless mics and making a joyful noise; over Zoom rehearsals where latency is king and only one member can sing at a time; masked in parks and fields, six feet apart, singing for their very souls. We salute you and thank you for your service and fortitude!

As the light at the end of the tunnel shines more brightly, choir directors have to perform a bit of a musical reconnaissance mission. The general public needs music more than ever; how will choirs get themselves back in tip-top shape?

1 – Start putting out feelers for in-person meetings – As the weather warms, so do peoples’ moods and psyches. If many of your choristers have been vaccinated, get together in your school/church/local parking lot, have a cuppa something and get caught up. How’s everyone been holding up? There may be many in your choir who have been quite sick and still may be struggling with symptoms, or have lost loved ones. They’ll need your TLC, humor and good chocolate. Be sure to provide those things, along with any recommendations you may have for any professional assistance that might serve them. *For those with younger choristas, tread carefully. While many parents may want their budding songbirds to get out there and make a joyful noise, safety always comes first. Your local school board will have guidelines and even if you’re not affiliated, it would be wise for you to heed them.

2 – Plan material – Whether in person or over the so-over-it-but-okay-you-saved-the-day Zoom platform, it’ll be great to get a feel for what pieces you’ll want to put into rotation. Choir directors are the bosses, after all, but think about taking suggestions. Keep in mind that both choir members and audiences alike have been starved for live performances for a year plus now, and we are so beyond ready. Curate wisely, however; selections that may have elicited cheers pre-pandemic might be too dark, too heavy for our weary souls now, so you might want to ease up on the requiem masses for a moment. We (both choir members and audiences alike) apologize in advance for weeping uncontrollably upon hearing/singing any selection (more on this in paragraph #5).

3 – Now is the time for new-member reach-out/recruitment – For choir members who’ve had vaccines, this could be their moment in the proverbial (and literal) sun. Reach out via email blasts, social media posts, rooftop shouting…all are welcome! The community needs to know that you’re coming back with a vengeance. Note: Newly recruited singers may not be as zealous as you imagine. Everyone is still feeling their own version of pandemic fatigue/germaphobia. It’s important to not force anyone, but rather let them meet you where they are. Do your best to assuage, honor and ‘hear’ their fears. Stay Zooming if you need to for now; as more people come back into the world, more will see that it’s safe to do so themselves.

4 – Invite choir members to socialize in other healthy ways – I’m always amazed at how much activities that seemingly have nothing to do with singing have so much to do with singing. Take walking in nature, for example. It raises endorphins, gets your breath and body feeling alive and well and fills your mind with serene, aesthetically pleasing thoughts. Maybe some members might like to join in a group walk? (This is good for your non-vaccinated members too, as they can mask up and come along.) Any of my students have heard me blather on about meditation and chanting enough to know how much I believe it helps in every way imaginable. Maybe others in your group feel the same, and you can meditate/chant together. A book club reading musical selections, perhaps? (Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors, High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby, another of my faves, Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro, yet another fave). A pot-luck get-together…?

See where I’m going with this? The choir that plays together stays together…

5 – Keep your eyes, ears and heart open for lots of emotional release at rehearsals – Yes, what a year it was (and continues to be, in myriad ways). I’ll wager that choristers are going to be more emotionally fragile than they’ve been. And many will be letting go of lots of pent-up emotions at rehearsals: rage, grief, depression, anxiety. Their voices will crack, they’ll not be able to hold back the tears…nor might you. This is more than natural: it’s welcome. If music gives us anything, it gives us the permission to fully be ourselves, to feel ourselves. And, those of us who know its power may finally, after this long, strange trip (Grateful Dead fans, I see you) allow it to carry us onward. So welcome whatever emotions come to your folks (and yourself) with the utmost respect. To paraphrase Bill Withers: we all need something to lean on.

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