Who could have imagined that singing with your friends would become potentially deadly? This was dramatically demonstrated in early March when 52 of 61 members of the Skagit Valley Chorale in Mt. Vernon, Washington, became ill with the coronavirus after attending a rehearsal. Two eventually died, and we learned that forceful singing produces tiny, rocket-like droplets that are the perfect carrier of the virus.
In a city that reveres its choral traditions, this was devastating news. Many groups, such as MUSE, Cincinnati Women’s Choir, and Cincinnati Men’s Chorus, were in rehearsal for spring concerts when stay-at-home-orders took effect. The May Festival Chorus was preparing for a marathon of dress rehearsals and performances for the 16-day May Festival.
As social distancing and face masks became our new normal, choral directors were tasked with figuring out what to do. “Right now, I’m just trying to hold the group together, because this is their social life as well as their musical life,” says Steve Milloy, director of the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus. Indeed, the camaraderie that comes with making music is a theme echoed by MUSE director Jillian Harrison-Jones and Robert Porco, director of May Festival Chorus. Milloy hosts a weekly social hour for members every Wednesday and Porco has kept in contact with each of the 120 chorus members via e-mail and social media.
Moving forward musically has been more challenging. Although Zoom orchestral and choral performances have become familiar, it’s not easy to create them, especially when everyone doesn’t have the same technology. Still, Harrison-Jones has managed to hold Zoom rehearsals every week and created online performances. Milloy is also planning virtual projects, and, along with Harrison-Jones, hopes to hold small group get-togethers if it can be done safely.
Right now, the only certainty is uncertainty. “Music does for us what nothing else can do,” Porco says. “We all miss it so much.”