Posts Tagged ‘choir’

Photo: Simon Simard for the New York Times
Outdoor choir practice. “The choir at the First Parish Church of Stow and Acton,” wrote the New York Times last week, “was able to meet for the first time since the pandemic began.”

Although coronavirus on surfaces still seems to be an issue (read about a lab study in Australia that says it can cling to phones and banknotes for 28 days), my current focus is on droplets suspended in the air. More ventilation, fewer ventilators!

So I’ve been following stories about people who have found ways to do things outside that would be too dangerous inside right now.

Bob Morris writes at the New York Times about singers feeling more like they are part of a real choir when they rehearse from their cars. (More or less how I hope to be with friends in winter.)

“I love singing four-part harmony,” Morris says. “It isn’t just about the precision, the ringing sound when voices blend together. It’s also about community, listening to one another and breathing together, creating a mood-lifter and balm in a fraught world.

“But like theater and hand shaking, choral singing has been canceled for now — and for good reason. Singing is the AK-47 of expression in the coronavirus era, shooting out so many aerosols that a church choir in Washington made the news in March when almost everyone present contracted the virus after a rehearsal; 53 singers became ill, and two died.

“When my men’s a cappella chorus on Long Island turned to Zoom rehearsals in the spring, I didn’t last long. The lag time over Zoom didn’t allow for live harmonizing or even the simplest singing in unison. ‘Performing’ meant recording ourselves alone at home so our conductor could edit us together.

“It felt like homework for hobbyists, without the emotional payoff. So when I first heard about choirs singing live in cars, it struck, well, a chord.

“It started with David Newman, a baritone on the voice faculty of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. In May, after a widely discussed web conference on the dangers of singing, Mr. Newman set up a sound system with four wireless microphones, an old-school analog mixer and an amplifier. Several singers gathered in their cars on his street, and he conducted them from his driveway.

“It worked. Out of respect for the neighbors, Mr. Newman started using an FM transmitter, so the blended sound came through over car radios — as it does for drive-in movies — not over a loudspeaker. He found barely any audio delay. ‘The latency was near zero, which was really exciting,” he told the Chorus Connection. ...

“Word of Mr. Newman’s drive-in chorus gradually spread as he posted instructions to help other groups. Bryce and Kathryn Denney, in Marlborough, Mass., were inspired … and were soon showing up with a car full of equipment for dispirited local choirs to facilitate live singing for up to 30 participants.

“On a recent Sunday, I was one of them. … The steeple of the First Parish Church of Stow and Acton, towered over the verdant town of Stow, Mass., west of Boston. …

“ ‘This is one concert that can’t be canceled,’ Bryce. …

“Kathryn, who directs musical theater productions, added, ‘We figured out how to bring people together to sing without making them sick,’ as she checked a spreadsheet of arriving participants and, wearing black latex gloves, [then gave participants] color-coded … sanitized microphones. …

“[The choir’s boyish conductor, Mike Pfitzer] had us sing scales and arpeggios. Hearing others not just over my radio but also outside made my voice shaky with emotion, especially when we sang the chords I’d been missing for so long: sunny major ones, darker minor ones and a trickier major seventh, as well. …

“I struggled with ‘Bonse Aba,’ the cheerful Zambian call and response song. … A rough translation of the song — a hymn — suggests it means that all children who want to sing should be able to sing. And so I did in close, bright harmony; we all did, with bells from the steeple ringing 5 o’clock just as we were finishing with another hymn, ‘May I Be Still.’ …

“ ‘It wasn’t just wonderful,’ said Ruth Lull, a soprano. ‘It was like coming home.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Zulekha Nathoo/CBC
Singer Linnea Leidy, 20, says she has relatives in Mexico and hopes the drop-in choir event on two sides of the border can “defuse some of the myths around these families who live around here.”

Sometimes our country feels noble for providing aid somewhere, and that’s OK. But how do we feel when other countries do the same for us — for example, when other countries stepped up because we failed to provide timely aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria? I think we need to be grateful and accept graciously, not get a chip on our shoulder. A similar dynamic can be seen in journalism. If we aren’t covering it, it’s great that another country does. Not sure if US journalists captured the following story, but I’m glad Canadians did.

Zulekha Nathoo reported at CBC about a Toronto choir that arranged a special friendship event at the US-Mexico border.

“The Toronto-based singing group Choir!Choir!Choir! staged a performance [in October] at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the decision was based on a desire to foster community rather than on politics alone.

“With a barbed wire fence and border patrol dividing two groups of drop-in singers, one located on the beach at Border Field State Park in San Diego, Calif., and the other just metres away in the border town of Tijuana, Mexico, the popular choral group performed a rendition of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ by The Beatles. …

“About 300 people took part on the U.S. side and 500 across the divide in Tijuana.’We’re just trying to create a moment that can be shared and that will bring people hope,’ said Daveed Goldman, co-founder of Choir!Choir!Choir!. …

“Tens of thousands of migrants from across Central America are seeking asylum. … It has led to stiffer immigration policies, including forced family separation.

‘These people are no different than the rest of us,’ said Linnea Leidy, 20, who came to sing. She said she has family in Mexico. ‘[This event] can help defuse some of the myths around these families who live around here.’

“A short walk from the singers is the famous Friendship Park, a bi-national space at the border where residents from both sides can meet their loved ones through a guarded fence. The spaces in the fence barely allow a pinky finger to fit through. …

” ‘There are things that we can’t solve by singing, obviously,’ said Molly Clark, who works at ArtPower at University of California San Diego, which helped organize the event. ‘But I hope that in the end, we just feel more connected to one another.’

“Choir!Choir!Choir!, which invites audience members to join singalongs around the world in an effort to build a sense of community, was founded by Goldman and fellow Canadian artist Nobu Adilman in 2011. The pair teaches a song’s arrangements to participants before performing it live as a group. In addition to travelling across Canada, the duo has put on shows around the U.S. and in Europe. …

“Adilman, who was directing singers on the Tijuana side, couldn’t be seen through the fencing, but his voice could be heard on the San Diego side through loudspeakers set up near the stage.

” ‘We stand with you,’ Adilman told the Tijuana crowd. ‘We just want you to know: you have a lot of friends who you haven’t met yet.’ ”

Choir!Choir!Choir! does these events a lot and probably has the logistics and partnerships down to a science, but I’m still impressed with the organizational chops.

More at CBC, here.

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Photo: Big Belly
Foot-pedal version of Big Belly for those who are squeamish about handles. (That would be me.)

Those Swedes! What will they think of next?

Are you familiar with the Big Belly solar-powered trash compactors sprouting up in public places? Well, in Uppsala, Sweden, the trash compactors have been taught to sing.

From a company post on Youtube: “Bigbelly International Partner, EWF, introduced an innovative and inspiring campaign to raise awareness of the Bigbelly Smart Waste & Recycling system in the metropolitan city of Uppsala, Sweden – home to one of the largest deployments in the world.

“The Uppsala ‘Waste Choir’ had their first performance during the Valborg celebrations on April 30th. Valborg is an annual holiday to welcome spring in Sweden. …

“The beautifully wrapped Bigbellys – each as a unique character and voice in the choir – stood together in front of 60,000+ visitors to the city and sang traditional Swedish songs in celebration of spring! …

“As noted in a press release regarding the campaign: ‘Citizens and visitors could for the first time listen to a garbage choir during the famous celebration of Walpurgis in the University City of Uppsala. The choir consists of 20 so called smart dust bins run by solar energy. Uppsala and Sweden are known for their many choirs.

“Maria Gardfjell (MP), chairman of the responsible municipal board had the honor of introducing the choir and informing the audience about other commitments to diminish littering.

“Fundamentally, it is an issue of changing attitudes and to encourage all of us to put our litter where it belongs, in a dust bin. … Since Uppsala introduced smart dust bins in 2013, the visible litter in the City Park and other main parks has decreased by 20 percent. The work environment for the sanitary workers has improved and the usage of plastic bags has decreased by 80 percent.”

Read the press release in full, here. And listen to the singing trash cans here:

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This post is for singer Will McMillan. It refers to singing in choirs, but I think singing with family around the campfire — or on the stage — would have the same effect on endorphins.

Slate  recently adapted a chapter from Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness While Singing With Others, by Stacy Horn,  Algonquin Books.

Horn says, “I used to think choir singing was only for nerds and church people. Since I was neither, I never considered singing in a group—even though I loved singing by myself. ”

She describes a period in her 20s when she was feeling really down. As she searched for ways to pull herself out of it, she remembered how happy she felt one time when she joined others to sing Christmas carols.

So, she continues, “I joined a community choir. Except that at that first performance, we didn’t sing Christmas carols—we sang a piece of music that was 230 pages long: Handel’s Messiah. It was magnificent. I was left vibrating with a wondrous sense of musical rapport. Since that performance, I haven’t found the sorrow that couldn’t be at least somewhat alleviated, or the joy that couldn’t be made even greater, by singing. …

“Music is awash with neurochemical rewards for working up the courage to sing. That rush, or ‘singer’s high,’ comes in part through a surge of endorphins, which at the same time alleviate pain. When the voices of the singers surrounding me hit my ear, I’m bathed in dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with feelings of pleasure and alertness.

“Music lowers cortisol, a chemical that signals levels of stress. Studies have found that people who listened to music before surgery were more relaxed and needed less anesthesia, and afterward they got by with smaller amounts of pain medication. Music also releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of euphoria and contentment.  ‘Every week when I go to rehearsal,’ a choral friend told me, ‘I’m dead tired and don’t think I’ll make it until 9:30. But then something magic happens and I revive … it happens almost every time.’  More.

Makes me want to sing. (Thanks for the lead, Jean!)

Photo: Slate.com

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