So what did you do during lockdown? Made sourdough? Learned a language? Maybe after a couple of weeks and having done none of those things (don’t mention the sewing) I was feeling underemployed, because on an impulse I signed up to a project to learn and sing the whole of the Messiah by the end of May. Yes, that’s Sunday coming. Well, I knew a few choruses already so I would hit the ground running. I was joining a couple of weeks late. So what? Easy to catch up. And my trusty score was marked up for alto (I need all the help I can get!)
So what’s an online choir like? Director Ben England who apparently needs no rest, rehearsed each part on a different night – yes, a whole rehearsal just for altos every Wednesday- what a luxury that has been – no waiting around for everyone else to get things right (!) The platform is Youtube, but Ben is so good in front of the camera it always feels like he is in the room with you. When he says ‘Bravo, altos!’ at the end of the evening it feels like he has heard every note although it’s also a relief when I remember it’s all an illusion. On the internet no one can hear you sing, right?
The other advantage of Youtube is that every rehearsal can still be accessed or repeated in catch-up mode, especially as many singers are from different time-zones. You guessed, Ben may be a local boy but this not just a Bristol project. In fact the surge of interest has been incredible, we soon had 400, 700 and then 1000 altos checking in on any one night.
But hang on a minute, the final concert wil be one of those videos of choir members all in action. Would I record a chorus or two to add to the effect? Could I? For a middling (shall we say mediocre?) alto this was a bit of a challenge requiring singing to a backing track but producing something that was me and me alone. Initial attempts were as horrific as any of my recent sewing failures. But surely (surely!) we owed it to Ben to give it a whirl.
So here is my home recording studio version one .
Desktop pc (with earphone) + phone propped on three books on top of a toilet-roll holder. This did not increase my confidence. And I still had to find a chorus I could sing with some assurance while having my face in the centre of the picture and worrying about the wobble effect .
But by now we had a jolly Facebook group all saying how terrible they sounded (I don’t think so!) and showing their own ingenious recording arrangements. So, ok, let’s try again. This looks a bit more like it. I can put the ipad (with Ben conducting) next to the phone. All set. And Mr Van Gogh is cheering me on. For the next two days I practised two choruses ad infinitum. It will be a token effort. What happened next?
Take 1 – made several mistakes.
Take 2 – pitch sounded off
Take 3 – dress rehearsal in suitably tidy but not stand-out clothing – still some bum notes
Take 4 – you know what, that wasn’t too bad. One weeny wrong entry I’m sure they can get rid of with the musical version of Photoshop. Press playback in optimistic mood. Uh-oh. This time I hadn’t actually pressed record. As we used to say in the days before emojis *head desk*.
Looks like I’ll have to make sourdough after all.
So let’s put it another way – on the internet no one will hear ME sing but YOU can hear the massed voices of most of the other choir members, thousands of them, many of them highly experienced choral singers. And did I say professional orchestra and soloists?
As for me, I’ll be singing along in my best concert gear, but otherwise I’m sticking to what I do best – the writing! And perhaps helping drum up donations to our chosen charity Help Musicians UK.
All the details of our concert are on the Self-Isolation Choir website (where the concert will be broadcast) or the Facebook event page. You can also follow the amazing Ben @mrbenengland and the behind the scenes director Mark @messiahathome on Twitter for all the action between now and Sunday. And for any singers out there the Self-Isolation Choir is marching on with a summer school and autumn performances.