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Posts Tagged ‘harmony’

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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Friday night I went to see the Groove Barbers at 51 Walden, not knowing quite what to expect. It turns out that three of the barbershop team were the original founders of Rockapella. One of them, Charlie Evett, lives in Concord, which explains why the others came to town.

They started off with “Love Potion Number 9,” and I knew I had come to the right place. The evening was super entertaining. It wasn’t exactly Oldies Night, but I liked hearing some songs I recognized from my youth. I also appreciated some of the musical jokes. The guys did a jazzy “Angels we have heard on high,” with the Deo of “in excelsis Deo” gradually morphing into “Day-o.” And they premiered of a new orchestration of one of my all-time favorite pop songs, “You don’t know me.”

They brought on a few guests: a young guy who makes those snare drum sounds so essential to a capella and a niece from Barnard College. Really terrific was lead singer Sean’s wife, Inna Dukach, a professional opera singer, who sometimes performs opera as they doo-wop in the background.

Sean Altman, Charlie Evett and Steve Keyes are the ones who were in Rockapella. Kevin Weist is the fourth Groove Barber. In addition to barbershop, the four perform rock, doo-wop, and jazz. Their website says they were featured in national TV commercials as The Astelins, offering “Astelin nasal spray to seasonal allergy sufferers.” (Available on YouTube.)

The Groove Barbers wound up with a bread and butter song from their past life, “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego,” which Suzanne’s dad suspects had a key influence on her love of travel.

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