What does it feel like to be singing again after eight months of silence? The flippant answer is that somebody seems to have replaced my vocal cords with strips of sandpaper. But at a deeper level the latest experience with choral holiday company Run By Singers has brought a satisfying reconnection, both with music and people.
During the pandemic, while choirs haven’t been able to meet and sing together as usual, lots of online possibilities have sprung up, but in general I wasn’t drawn to the idea of warbling in isolation at my computer screen. When Run By Singers announced their Virtual Vienna package, though, it sounded more appealing as it came complete with a specially-commissioned backing choir of talented young professionals and accompanying organ for remote rehearsals and, eventually for the virtual performance, a baroque orchestra. I’d sung the work in question, Mozart’s Requiem, many times before, so the prospect sounded doable. Time to get that voice back in some sort of shape.
Having made the short journey to my study – no queue, no security check, no quarantine – I set up all the necessary technology: laptop on which to access rehearsals via YouTube, iPad with downloaded score and mobile on which to record my contributions. This would be a first for me – I’d never even used my phone to capture my speaking voice let alone any attempt at music. But thankfully I worked it out, as our individual tracks were destined to be blended together to produce a CD in aid of the charity Requiem to Cancer, whose 24-hour singing marathon had been another casualty of this extraordinary year. And it would be great to play a part in a tangible souvenir of this unique venture.
There was a happy mixture of general introduction and sectional and tutti rehearsals over the course of a couple of weeks, with space in between the sessions for us to come back to the YouTube recordings as often as we liked. It was a tall order steering us through so much material in the time available but our director Matt Finch rose to the challenge in a businesslike yet friendly manner. I found myself wondering how on earth he kept up the motivation with no aural or visual feedback from the ‘choir’, apart from the occasional comment in the chat facility that scrolled by at the side of the screen. This in itself was a welcome bonus, as we could all chip in and say ‘hi’ to each other (in the ‘waiting room’ of course, not while we were concentrating on the music), marvelling at how far-flung we all were, with over 1,000 singers participating worldwide. It was especially lovely to be aware of singing simultaneously with specific friends from previous holidays – not the same but the next best thing.
Matt helped us get our voices warmed up. Something of a wake-up call as far as breath control was concerned, I found, and hitting the high notes was clearly going to be a challenge. But I was singing again and enjoying Mozart’s wonderful music. Being supported by the backing choir made for a more all-round experience and on the plus side nobody (apart from my husband) could hear my mistakes. Well, I could hear them myself too, of course, especially when listening back to the ‘recording opportunities’, but I’m reliably informed that nobody likes hearing their own recorded voice and anyway there’ll be safety in numbers when the sound engineer wizards do their magic and weave them together. Plus there was no pressure to get it right first time and you could always have another go when you forgot to set your phone to airplane mode so that a WhatsApp message pinged in during the closing bars of Lux Aeterna.
Now for a fortnight of private practice before we virtually meet again to perform and toast each other – and Mozart – with Viennese punch.