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Getting Singers Back In Shape – Remotely

By Jaime Babbitt

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It’s been a rough couple of months, for sure. No one has sung in a large group for a really long time. For singers and choral directors alike, this not only unsettling, but it rattles the very foundation of who we are. Some singers don’t want to sing. It’s almost too much – too much weight, too many emotions stuffed down for too long. Singing makes vulnerable both the vocalist and the listener. This we know.

Suffice it to say that no one has sung in a large group for a very good reason; COVID-19 is no joke, and no hoax, and singing is considered a high-risk activity due to the force of the expulsion of air and moisture. However, if we are to honor ourselves and honor our gifts, we need to find a way back to singing, even as the world find its way back to itself, too. But how do we begin? How can singers remain vital and in shape? What can choir directors say to help the vocalists they know and love?

Well, as the ancient Chinese proverb says: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So, as Julie Andrews says (erm, sings), let’s start at the very beginning.

Warm up every day, whether you plan to sing or not

Even if choirs aren’t yet back to non-socially distant rehearsals, singers can still keep up their chops. “Use it or lose it” is a popular phrase for a reason: it’s true. While muscles and mucous membranes don’t have brain cells, they certainly don’t do what they used to do if they stop “doing” altogether.

Get your body tuned up and running well

Since the voice resides in the body, it’s a given that the two are connected. A guitar case with gaping holes and broken closures isn’t going to take very good care of a guitar, is it? Consider that the body is the voice’s guitar case. You’ve got to do right by it! People may have extra time now. They can use it to walk, jog, yoga, hike, bike, do tai chi, and Pilates. Be judicious and don’t undertake anything too hard, too fast, or too advanced. Injuries will happen and the frustration of having to sit things out will be a real buzzkill.

Start listening to music regularly

Some, when faced with adversity, turn to art and music to comfort them. Others may not. This is sad, but true, and knowing where your choristers/colleagues fall on this spectrum is important. Identifying those who may burrow in and gently reaching out to them with funny emails, socially distant invitations, and gorgeous songs to listen to may go a long way.

Have regular “musical” and non-musical Zoom chats

While we all can grow terribly tired of being on the computer most of the day, touching base with colleagues can create a fun and familiar routine, especially for those feeling unmoored. Chatting on Zoom can be fun, despite the time lag. I’ve started asking friends to Zoom and sing songs for each other; we’re all educators and artists, so we contribute our two cents and everyone has a lovely time.

Take voice lessons, now more than ever

Yes, I know that most likely they’ll be remote. But I’m here to tell you that remote learning can work very well. I was skeptical, too, but I’ve had online students for years and have seen firsthand how singers improve, with lasting results. However, if you prefer in-person lessons, some teachers are teaching in person, with proper distance, outdoors, with face shields and masks like those from the Broadway Relief Project (www.broadwayreliefproject.com/singersmask) and Etsy.

Host a Zoom karaoke party (and yes, it’s a thing)

True, it’s not choir singing, but it’s a great way to have some fun and laugh. Laughter is the best medicine (aside from singing) that I know. Here’s a way to do it – it’s not for the technologically challenged, so get some young whippersnapper to help out if needed: www.tomsguide.com/news/how-to-do-karaoke-on-zoom

Consider online choir rehearsals (yes, it’s becoming a thing)

Many folks have asked, and several people are doing their best to answer the call. Resources are starting to crop up, showing us how to rehearse choirs (albeit smaller ones) without banging our heads on our piano keyboards.

Check out these marvelous sites:

www.choirplayer.com/online-choir-rehearsal-platforms

• galachoruses.org/resource-center/quarantined-choirs/virtual-choir-rehearsal

Remember: this way we’re living now is not forever

Sometimes living in the present can be a challenge, especially with respect to change. We tend to think that things will always be the way they are now, even though we’ve seen evidence to the contrary. So, just as good times must end, so must bad times. We will eventually understand how to contain the spread of the virus. We will bolster our immune systems with vaccines and other preventative measures. And, once again, we will be able to travel, enjoy ourselves, and sing together.  That day will come, and until then, why not sing?

Jaime Babbitt has sung for millions of people…just not all at once. She’s sung with Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Sam Moore, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Courtney Love, and many others. She coaches voice online: www.workingwithyourvoice.com

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