Member blog: our first online rehearsal

Clare Edwards, Musical Director of Notorious Choir, tells us about the successes and challenges of the group's first online rehearsal in light of COVID-19.

Like groups all over the world, my choir, Notorious, has had to cancel our forthcoming rehearsals and concerts for at least the next couple of months.

It was only at the start of this year, at our first January rehearsal, when a number of my singers came up to me to express how much they had looked forward to coming back to choir after Christmas and how important to their life weekly choir rehearsals were.

So it was no surprise to me on Tuesday 17 March, when we trialled our first online, coronavirus-defying rehearsal on our normal rehearsal night, that we had a great turnout. And even a few old members who have moved away joined in!

Whatever happens we are going to meet each week, catch up, sing and have some fun together. It won’t be exactly the same as being in the same room – but we will get as close as we can.

I know lots of people are starting up new choirs that bring hundreds of disparate people from around the world together, but they can only hear the choir leader and themselves. This is not what I’m talking about here. We want to maintain the established relationships of our choir and actually try and find ways to sing together and connect in a genuinely interactive way.

How did it work?

  • We spent one hour on Google Hangout Meet. Everyone logged on successfully using a link we sent them. That was the first relief! Instead of watching people coming into the room, I could see their faces and names popping up on my screen one after another. 
  • We had a mini meeting about how we wanted to keep meeting whatever it takes online and we all agreed to keep trying until we found a solution.
  • I led some physical warm ups with everyone on mute except for me – it took some members longer to figure out the muting than others, but we got there in the end.
  • Then I led some singing warm-ups that I do that don’t require people to be in time with each other. We did these with everyone's mics on and it was a great test of how many voices you could hear at once. The warm-up is supposed to highlight some voices at different times and it was clear that different timbres of voices (some of the men’s voices for example) were picked up better by hangouts than others.
  • Then we tried some singing together of a piece we all know. The latency of the sound (the time lag) between people meant that it didn’t work - but we had fun trying!
  • We then had a comfort break and tried the same piece using Zoom. Some more success here, but it was still not possible to get the sound together, or get a satisfactory sound.

So lots of learning done! We found out that we can warm up together, even sing in a limited and experimental way. One of our members is a composer and is considering writing a piece especially for Zoom!

Notorious Choir meeting online


Plans for the future

  • We are trying again next week in our planned rehearsal slot – and in between now and then I am testing a number of other platforms with small groups of the choir (our trusty committee!).
  • We are going to experiment with having sectionals online using learning tracks – so sending a separate link to each voice part with learning tracks so they can learn together – then come together as a whole choir and singing along with a backing track (but only hearing ourselves).
  • We might try some vocal technique lessons – and even invite guest speakers in.
  • We are going to look at phone conference calling to see if the latency is less, while having a video option live and silent on our computers.
  • We are going to try and make music for about an hour a week and then have another 30-60 mins of social activity online (like name that tune, or notation bingo), designed each week by different members of the choir.

Whatever happens we are going to meet each week, catch up, sing and have some fun together. It won’t be exactly the same as being in the same room – but we will get as close as we can.

My phone was filled with messages of thanks afterwards from members who had found the whole experience uplifting and encouraging. So we won’t be giving up on this approach any time soon!

Follow Clare Edwards on Twitter and Linkedin

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Has your music group recently started online rehearsals in light of COVID-19? If you are part of a Making Music member group, don't forget to join the Facebook Making Music community group to share your worries, online triumphs (or set-backs!) and thoughts about the present or future.

More information about the latest online activity, along with top tips for making music online and staying connected, can be found in our resource.