Two Making Music member choirs have used virtual means to carry on with the ambitious commemorative concert they had planned.
Newcastle Choral Society (NCS) and Hertfordshire Chorus were scheduled to stage a joint concert on Sunday 3 May at Sage One Gatesehead, featuring Ralph Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony and James McCarthy's Codebreaker.
The two choirs have been in touch with each other ever since NCS put on their first concert as a local external promoter in Sage One Gateshead in 2005. David Temple, the conductor of Hertfordshire Chorus, who is originally from Newcastle, brought his management team from Hertfordshire Chorus up to Gateshead to learn more from NCS about their Sage experience and the two choirs have kept in touch over the years.
This year for their first ever collaboration, the choirs had planned a concert tied to VE Day commemorations. They chose to perform Codebreaker, about the life of WWII codebreaker Alan Turing who was sentenced to chemical castration in 1952. In recognition of the injustice done to him, Turing received a posthumous pardon in 2013. The choirs chose to complement the piece with A Sea Symphony for the second part of the concert.
'In our own small way we have turned the tide of gloom and worry of isolation into a positive experience which we will remember with pride.'
COVID-19 brought plans to a grinding halt with cancelled rehearsals and everyone in lockdown at home. However musical director of NCS, Mark Anyan, presented the two choirs with the challenge of singing parts of Codebreaker as a virtual performance to be released at the exact time that the concert would have been held. With the blessing of the composer and publisher (Stainer and Bell Ltd) and aided by modern technology, the singers worked in isolation at home, armed with devices, headphones and scores.
Musical director Mark Anyan in action
Each performer sang and recorded their part, and North East pianist David Murray recorded the piano accompaniment. Regular sessions on Zoom kept both choirs in touch.
'One of those 'I'm so glad I did it in the end' moments. It's brought so much to the singers that took part who were able to share their views on our weekly Zoom sessions.'
'The technology brought us all problems initially but we worked through it all,' says Charmian Marshall, chair of NCS, '[we were] keeping members engaged through smaller groups we had set up where you could share any concerns over the whole business of singing alone to a pre-recorded track. Many folk said they had worried so much about it, teetering on giving up, but I kept on encouraging everyone to keep going. One of those 'I'm so glad I did it in the end' moments. It's brought so much to the singers that took part who were able to share their views on our weekly Zoom sessions. We just need to keep going with similar projects, but also work out how to pull in the remainder of the choir who didn't feel able to sign up or with patchy broadband etc.'
The recordings, edited by Mark (himself on a learning curve with putting all the tracks together), have been incorporated into a video made by choir member Julia Toni, which touches on the contribution of NHS and other front line staff to combat the effects of COVID-19. A second version of the performance was released as part of VE75 comemmorations. With her newly developed skills, Julia is now the choir's go-to person for future video projects.
'In just five weeks,' says Charmian, 'in our own small way we have turned the tide of gloom and worry of isolation into a positive experience which we will remember with pride.' The concert has been rescheduled for 16 May 2021 at Sage Gateshead.
Has your music group been busy recording virtual performances during lockdown, or do you have a recording from before lockdown that you'd like to share? If you're a member of Making Music you can submit it for broadcast to our Virtual Concert series. Find out more and how to submit.