Summer and Central American choral singing workshops
By Roland Graham
As people continue to grapple with new realities in the post-pandemic world, groups and collectives that traditionally involved large groups meeting in small, confined spaces are once again finding ways to operate successfully.
Among the hardest hit by the lockdowns and closures of 2020-21 was the choral singing community, which was singled out as being about the worst place you could be if you wanted to avoid sharing your breathing air with other people. And not without reason – anecdotes of people dying en masse following community choir practices in early 2020 spread like wildfire, giving organizers the world over little choice but to halt operations.
Fortunately, now that most people are vaccinated and boosted – to say nothing of the good percentage who’ve had and recovered from the bug – choirs for the most part feel safe once again, even for the elderly and at-risk. And it’s helped that studies have shown that choral singing was not so dangerous as briefly thought. But they’ve had to adapt.
Among the changes for choirs brought on by the pandemic was a shift in emphasis from working predominantly in large groups to focusing on individual vocal development and small ensemble singing. Technology has played a vital role too, as singers rely increasingly on study aids provided through the internet to learn music on their own.
For the most part, directors have embraced these shifts, as the alternative approaches have offered their own rewards. Although more time-consuming and challenging to schedule, working more often in smaller groups affords greater opportunity to meet the learning needs of individual singers and can lead to a better honed ensemble.
The good weather helps, as windows can be left open with fresh air ventilating rehearsal spaces. Many groups even plan outdoor meetups in the summer, where the challenge of singing without a reverberant acoustic to give feedback are more than compensated for by the enjoyment of being out of doors.
My choral workshops have followed the trends with some of these same adaptations. Hot on the heels of a successful spring workshop that culminated in noon-hour concerts at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian and at Southminster United Churches, I am gearing up for a summer workshop that will involve both singing outside and working in small groups.
The performance component of the summer workshop will be to sing the Canadian and American national anthems for an Ottawa Titans baseball game on Thursday, August 3. Following age-old tradition, we’ll also sing a new a capella arrangement of Take Me out to the Ball Game during the seventh inning stretch.
To prepare, singers will meet in small groups of similar voices (e.g., sopranos, altos) to learn and master the parts before assembling as a full choir to put the music together. Some of the rehearsals, weather permitting, will happen outside to prepare for singing in the open air at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park.
In the fall, I’m planning a workshop for singers to learn and perform Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, a piece I love to teach. And then next February, I’m taking a group of singers to Nicaragua with singing engagements booked in the colonial city of Granada on the shore of Lake Nicaragua and in the seaside town of San Juan del Sur near the border of Costa Rica.
In a region unexplored by travelling choirs, the trip will offer a totally original experience blending wellness and eco/adventure tourism with daily singing, immersed in a wonderful world of colonial, Indigenous and Latin culture, set in one of the most agreeable climates to be found on earth.
The underlying theme of my workshops is reclaiming your voice. Any who have missed employing their vocal cords to musical ends or simply want to sing even more, honing and discovering new abilities as they do, will enjoy them. Geared especially to people not seeking long-term commitments, participants don’t have to join for the whole year and don’t need to audition to take part.
For more information, contact OttawaChoralWorkshops@gmail.com.
Roland Graham is artistic director of the Master Piano Recital Series and Doors Open for Music at Southminster, held at Southminster United Church.