Choral Singing in Lockdown – a reflection

Throughout the Covid lockdowns, Richard has has run Zoom rehearsals for York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir, Ryedale Voices, Leeds Male Voice Choir and Harrogate Male Voice Choir. This has included recording each part for around 120 songs, compiling virtual recordings, presenting live concerts on Zoom and Youtube and composing new music. To hear a selection of these tracks visit his YouTube channel.

Below is Richard’s blog about how it all began in the first lockdown:

May 2020 was supposed to be an exciting month for the York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir (of which I am Assistant MD) and for the Ryedale Voices (whom I conduct).

YPMVC, or “The Phil”, were due to travel to Germany and Holland as part of the choir’s 95th year celebrations; to sing alongside choirs and singers with whom they have a friendship that spans over 50 years. Malton’s Ryedale Voices on the other hand, led by Alison Davis, have only just passed their 1st anniversary and were due to perform their first full concert in May alongside Alison’s other choir, Harmonia, and my small ensemble The Sound Fellows. Naturally, these events have had to be cancelled for now. However, this doesn’t mean that the choirs have suspended all activity.

I took it upon myself to keep the two choirs going through the lockdown period, helped enormously by Alison Davis and by Helen Smith (accompanist of “The Phil”). The primary purpose was to tackle any potential feelings of isolation by keeping the choir members connected, but I was also keen to keep us all singing and to keep repertoire fresh. Inspired by many other choir leaders across the country I began to lead rehearsals for the two choirs over Zoom. This is a very different experience to normal rehearsals. The time lag between different internet connections doesn’t allow you to sing together and so I have been recording the separate parts for each of our songs, combining them in Audacity, and we have used these to sing along to over Zoom. Many of our singers are not particularly tech savvy and yet we have overcome these boundaries and have managed to regularly achieve between 40 and 55 singers on each of our Monday and Tuesday rehearsals over the last six weeks.

Aware that choral singers get the greatest satisfaction from hearing themselves singing together I initially invited the members of each choir to send me audio recordings of their individual parts for songs that we were familiar with. The combined tracks, made up of these individual recordings, can be seen and heard here:

Siyahamba by The Ryedale Voices

Lily of the Valley by the YPMVC

Encouraged by the positive responses from the singers and followers of the two choirs, and by a very positive reaction on social media, I decided that the next challenge should be to write, learn and record a video of a brand new song relevant to the current situation we find ourselves in. I wanted to keep the feeling of this song positive and so composed a piece called “Keep Singing”. Over the next few rehearsals, we learned this song and were joined by singers from other choirs to make this a joint York-Malton collaboration between singers from; The Ryedale Voices, YPMVC, Harmonia, The Sound Fellows and the Scarcroft Parent’s Choir. Below is our “virtual choir” rendition of that new song, with special thanks to David Todd for compiling the video and to all the singers who battled with both the technology and their own insecurities around recording themselves singing solo.

Whatever trials we will continue to face through 2020 and beyond, I would encourage everybody to Keep Singing.

Click here to read the choir members’ feedback