Giving Voice Live: Our Chorus Goes Virtual!

In this time of social distancing, bringing choruses together is no small matter. Giving Voice was challenged with this task as the implications of COVID-19 spread.  Thankfully, our three Minneapolis/Saint Paul choruses are now growing accustomed to meeting virtually through Zoom technology.  And they are enjoying every minute of it!!

Thanks to Zoom technology and a handful of Giving Voice techno-wizards, our choruses are now singing virtually during a time of pandemic!  Chorus artistic director, Jeanie Brindley-Barnett, shared her perceptions of the first virtual Zoom chorus session.

“We were astonished to find 58 singers and caregivers on our first March Zoom session. Many already were using Zoom as a platform with their families.  Everyone was so happy to see each other!  They felt connected, worked through any unexpected technology glitches, and had fun.  You could see complete engagement on their faces!  Debbie and I traded off playing on the keyboards with the group and also used a pre-recorded choral mix CD music. It was a magical hour!”

Co-founder and managing director of production Marge Ostroushko has witnessed the inspiration of each virtual Zoom chorus session.

 “You can feel the sense of community.  As people came on line, you could see the joy in their faces.  The sense of reconnecting is extraordinary.  Everyone is engaged in our “Move & Groove” movements to songs. This is definitely the next best thing to being physically together. Twin Cities’ music legend and MacPhail Community Chorus Director J.D. Steele recently joined us in a Zoom chorus call to witness the session. We are all learning together. In my opinion, this is indeed a chorus for the times.”

Having virtual chorus sessions on Zoom where everyone can hear each other is a technical challenge.  Music is very different from the spoken voice using Zoom technology.  The sound delay with music is very different than with the spoken word and issues with internet connectivity and lag time also exist.  Fortunately, there are ways to bypass these situations.  Brindley-Barnett explains, “To get around this limitation, our accompanist plays the keyboard while chorus members sing.  Everyone’s microphone is muted so that singers only hear their own voices and the keyboard. The voices are not blended. We later unmute everyone so we can talk together once again.”

Oustroushko explains that “Zoom is a technology created for the spoken word. No current technology works for the singing word. The delays in vocal singing sound like a Phillip Glass composition.  So what we’ve developed is good enough.”

Chorus singers Mollie and Dave Paulson were delighted to be part of the Giving Voice Zoom experience. They have been with the chorus since its inception and both have strong music backgrounds.  “It was wonderful to see chorus members again,” explained Mollie.  “While Dave now has an advanced Alzheimer’s condition, you could feel his joy in seeing the other singers.  He felt a connection to them again. The coordinated chorus direction reestablished a foundation for singing and practicing.  It was much more rewarding than just looking at our books at home.  The breathing, exercises, and movement were all helpful!”

Mollie and Dave plan to continue with the Zoom sessions throughout this period of important social distancing.  Mollie highly appreciates Giving Voice’s efforts in making these sessions occur.  “The leaders of the session are doing a wonderful job. They are covering all the bases that occur in our live sessions. Their sensitivity to the singers, particularly to those living with the disease, is unchanged.  I can’t say enough about their support.

When Ostroushko was asked what advice she would give other state and national choruses with singers living with Alzheimer’s, her response was practical.  “Find someone who really understands Zoom, what it can do, and how to do it.  The more you know about using it as a tool, the less mysterious it becomes and the more you can guide other people.  Understand its limitations.  It’s better to know its capacity so you can both work with it and know how to work around some of its limitations.”

Giving Voice has discovered that there are many ways to help people feel connected during this time of uncertainty. In addition to the weekly Zoom rehearsal sessions, chorus members also receive a weekly e-mail with links for inspirational videos and other chorus information.  Members continue to experience the joy of sharing music. And the singers are hungry for this time together.

According to Brindley-Barnett, “We want to touch.  This period in our lives is very difficult for everyone.  The good news is that we can still connect through music. Our singers have a fierceness and commitment to share.  We have truly become a family.  This chorus has taught me over and over again to live in the moment – that’s all we really have.”