CANADA : Victoria

Ensemble Laude, conducted by Elizabeth MacIsaac

Vocal Ensemble

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” Thanks for reaching out, I think its important at this to connect with others who are concerned about the same thing: Choral Singing!
It’s a lot to figure out, and much of it involves just waiting and seeing while informing oneself.  I do think that each organization has to do what works for them. 
>From the outset, it was clear to me that this was going to be something we would need to adapt to for a lengthy time, at least a year. That was what I read between the lines, even in early March, with the daily Dr Henry announcements as well as what I was learning through forums and ZOOMs with the big choral orgs.
Now you are going to think I’m a curmudgeon, because I’m not at all on board with the Virtual Choir things. 
While I LOVE all of my singers and consider them dear friends, I don’t miss rehearsals or concert prep, I suppose because I continually feel that this pandemic is something to take very seriously and not long for things beyond its requirements. I am hunkered down and doing things which I feel will be beneficial for life during COVID and life afterwards. For example, while Virtual Choir projects are fun, they are not choir concerts, they are heartwarming, and help the singers feel connected. But I personally find them stultifying! They are videos, not the real thing, they are “feel good” not deeply engaging. They are a past-time, a time filler until we can do the real thing. They are not very interesting to watch except for those who are involved in the project. But for those in the project, they are fascinating, like avatars but they are not really REAL, to me. 



© Laude choir

They are very time consuming to put together and can cost a good deal of money unless you know someone to do all of that significant work for you. It has to be someone who likes that sort of thing. I love doing video and recording editing and producting, but the Virtual Choir work is only fun as a hobby for me, and something for my spare time if I have any. There are many things I’d rather put my time and money toward. I would rather not sing than do ZOOM rehearsals and Virtual Choir Projects. 
All this said, I love very deeply staying connected to the singers via weekly ZOOM gatherings where we watch videos from earlier concerts, talk about the meaning of all of this, learn about various types of choral repertoire, how to keep the voice in shape on one’s own, discuss what might be safe and what might not in terms of singers, and so on. We talk, we analyse, we share, but we do not sing. The latency makes togetherness impossible, so we tried cluster improvisation which worked but sounds lousy through a computer sound system! So why do that? Why not do something that actually works ok? Our choir is quite a social group, so we are doing that part of things: staying cohesive and thinking about how we will do things when next we actually gather, which is a long time away.
When a field is left fallow for a year, it is in order to allow it to become more fertile again, to replenish its nutrients
When something is left dormant for awhile, it is an opportunity to dream new ideas, to rejuvenate, to move in directions which there was no energy and time for before, to reassess, to decide what crop would be good to plant next. The farmers, here, are us
It is important to stay in touch with the local and the wider choral communities. There are no borders to meeting now, and ZOOM is a great way to connect with people all around the world! Chorus America, ACDA, Choral Canada, Victoria Choral Scene and the UW Choral Cohort are groups I meet with regularly to talk about things as we are experiencing them along the way and it is very supportive, informative and caring! 
I’ve been keeping well informed as to the scientific issues reporting the dangers of singing in particular: both in terms of increased abdominal pressure sending particles much further as well as the deeper respiration involved that allows more particles in. It is utterly sobering. 
Right now the choral community is still trying to figure out how to rehearse a choir safely and no-one has a solution other than virtually from the safety of home. Here are the possibilities which my organization is considering right now. First, you need to know that my proposal is a suspension of one year at least for my choir, and that I take an unpaid Leave of Absence. 
If we resumed in the fall, with the AD NOT taking a Leave, and with the COVID situation still the way it is for singers. In this case, I would say, we would be asking singers to register for a choir which would only meet virtually. Frankly, knowing the bulk of the singers don’t likely want that experience for a full season, I would suggest we don’t need to discuss that option other than mention it exists.
Lets say that the board would still like to resume in the fall with the AD taking a Leave: then the board would need to find a replacement director. Again we can probably stop there because we are sure our singers don’t want a virtual year with an interim director.
Lets say that our Heath Authorities say by September that it is safe to resume choral singing with a distance of 15 feet between singers and the AD does not take a Leave or we decide to hire an interim director. Finding a rehearsal space for all of our singing would be impossible. We could conceivably run small ensembles for the season and hope to mount a concert in the Spring, with a likelihood of a much reduced audience size because of the dangers of close sitting, so there would have to be 3 times as many concerts to meet our usual audience specs. There are many hitches with this. Indeed, I think this is exactly why it’s a great time for the AD to take a Leave because even with this possibility, there are challenges and RISKS even if the authorities approve it. Though I love leading small groups, here are the issues. 
– One major problem with small groups rehearsing together well separated from one another is that they would have to be led. Lets say we have 10 groups of 4-6 people: that would be ten times the amount of choral leading in a week, closer to 30 hours of leading. And where would they meet? To reserve 30 hours of rehearsal time for several sets of small groups in a larger space is highly impractical.
-So, then the only viable way would perhaps be holding most of the rehearsal via ZOOM while providing practice sound tracks for the singer to learn with, with a strong expectation of proven regular home practice. Home practice would no longer be a recommendation or a hope, it would be required in order to sing in our choir. Providing sound tracks is a very time consuming process, but at least it allows non-reading singers to successfully practice on their own. 
Here’s my recommendation:  
-Suspend this season. As the AD, I personally intend to stay safe, even if there might be some risk takers in our choir who would like to gather. I have no intention of working with others beyond my personal sense of safety, particularly because I have a 93 year old parent living in my home. Even when the Health Officer lifts restrictions, we know she recommends that everyone follow their own sense of safety and to be clear, I plan to be very conservative in my physical closeness to others until I have been vaccinated. So, if the AD is not planning a return, that’s a big factor in continuing any season until the coast is clear.
-Now, this said, hopefully it is possible to prepare in the New Year to restart in September 2021 with a combination of sound file support, much home practicing and virtual rehearsals. Because safety protocols include temperature taking which is time consuming and would suck up to an hour of the 3 hour typical rehearsal length, I would suggest several (bi-weekly) all day rehearsals with safety protocols in place in the 2 months before concerts, rather than the shorter weekly rehearsals.
Since September 2021 is a year away in terms of necessary preparation, this is an opportunity to rethink many aspects of the Artistic Vision. Without getting in to too much detail, here are some of the things I would plan to be doing over the next year as well as revisions of how the musical side of Laude works.
– I plan to continue to curate programming for the time when we can resume. 
-during hiatus the Grant committee will seek grants to sustain us and prepare us for restart as our finances will be low upon our return. 
-since finances will be strained, we plan not to purchase ANY music at all, tempting though it can be, for our first season back. 
-the AD will either make my own musical arrangements of songs, or we will use music which is in our libraries or the public domain. 
-We would implement a new library policy for our first season back to include the expectation that all singers make their own copies of the music, and that we not use a librarian at all. We simply send the PDF’s to all participating singers and they each find a way to print out their music at their own expense. Singers would keep their music at the end of the season, since they paid for it, as it will either be music which I’ve arranged or which is free to all anyway. 
-in Spring 2021, we re-audition/re-assess all singers. Depending on how many singers return and what our balance is, advertising for new vocalists will be restricted. If we, for example, have a dearth of Soprano 1 singers returning, then we would do an audition call for Soprano 1 singers only.
-the Emerging Artist’s programme would be suspended for at least one season, unless we find ourselves with a grant which will support it.
-the newly formed Ensemble Laude would work towards making a recording, possibly including video recording of the 2021 programme, with the help of a grant from CRD.
-I am currently creating a compilation video of Luminescence with the intention of some form of dissemination: possibly as a fundraiser for the near future while we are in hiatus and if the calibre of performance is not high enough, to show as a Virtual Drive In Movie viewing experience for Ensemble Laude singers and their far flung family members. This will happen in June, date TBA but will be a Sunday afternoon viewing.
-video recordings have now been extracted from Luminescence and are set to go out next week to this season’s composers: Robert Ingari, Sarah Quartel and Sarah Riskind, with our thanks.
-My weekly ZOOM sessions with Laude singers will continue for at least another month. Several singers seem to want this social connectedness and many seem to really appreciate it.
– Last week and this week, the ZOOM sessions are including extracts of songs -and bloopers!- from Luminescence for the singers’ pleasure. 
The ZOOM sessions also offer choral rounds to sing en famille, vocal exercises to stay in vocal shape and teaching sessions on repertoire specifics, ie medieval chant. 
 All best “
Elizabeth MacIsaac

© Laude choir