Musical director of St Helens Ladies’ Choir, Patricia Lewis, describes her journey from having very little technological knowledge to running her choral group on Zoom during the pandemic.
After early retirement from running a busy school music department and working with operatic societies, in 2011 I started a daytime weekly ladies’ choir in St Helens where I live. Many of our members do not read music and were technically inexperienced. From within the big choir we have a smaller choral group which also performs separately.
As the founder and musical director, I am supported by a small, excellent committee. Our repertoire is traditional, mainly two and three part. We have three concerts each year, occasionally inviting other choirs to join us.
How did you deal with getting started with technology?
At the start of the pandemic, my technology skills were abysmal. To be blunt I was technophobic and could not even send an email. However, I knew we wanted to keep the choir together.
By September the French class I attended had gone onto Zoom and since the tutor was a choir member, I dipped my toe in the tech water. I would call her after class and ask for explanations of Zoom features and also used Making Music’s Zoom resources. After a month of preparation and practice we started what, to my dismay, turned out to be weeks of sectional ‘tech with a little music’ rather than ‘music with a little tech’.
In September I began a weekly choir business email to everyone to save valuable rehearsal time, and in October began to incorporate features such as original sound and the waiting room. It was November before we finally had 47 members together in a realistic singing rehearsal.
How have you kept the group going?
Rehearsals are now two 40-minute sessions with a 10-minute break and we have started using breakout rooms. We cope with Zoom’s musical limitations because there is enormous goodwill and patience in the choir, and a sense of pride in each individual’s personal achievement.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out with online rehearsals from scratch?
Ask questions of anyone around you with more technical knowledge.
Some members might not attend because they are afraid of seeming ignorant. Link them, one to one, with a more experienced user of the same type of device.
- Expect to be emotionally and physically drained after directing your first few Zoom rehearsals.
- Use a waiting room, opened early for social interaction and for their personal check list – audio on, video on, 100% volume to enable a prompt start.
- Greet members by name. Perhaps have regular small group Zoom half hour coffee mornings for no more than eight people. This promotes social cohesion, as does a cascade system for delivering new music.
- Avoid the chat function! It can be distracting.
- Eventually, in time, identify a co-host to manage the admissions for you.
- Project a positive attitude, which in turn helps your choir to feel positive too, whatever issues may arise.
There is so much more to our online journey and I would be happy to talk to any choral director hesitant to use Zoom. St Helens Ladies’ Choir is still in the shallows of the great technological ocean, but it seems to be working for us!
Read our guidance on how to help other people with little knowledge of technology to get online.
View our resource for some top tips on making the most of online rehearsals.
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