FAIRFIELD — Most bands and choirs in Iowa have hit the “pause” button on rehearsal in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people as a way of stopping the spread of the virus. Schools are closed, athletic fields lie dormant and churches are moving their masses online.
The Chamber Singers of Southeast Iowa were looking forward to giving a concert in May, and now even that is uncertain. The group was faced with the prospect of losing several weeks of valuable rehearsal time, but it’s found an ingenuous way to practice the music, even though no two singers are in the same room.
The choir has been able to continue its rehearsals through a teleconferencing program known as ZOOM. It works similarly to Skype, a program that allows people to see and hear each other in real time by communicating over the internet with a microphone and camera. The interesting thing about ZOOM is that it can accommodate a large number of people who are all part of the same “meeting,” where they can see and hear everyone else who has connected to the meeting over the internet.
Elaine Reding, the choir’s director, said she started doing “virtual rehearsals” within five days of the announcement prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more.
“We’re doing the best we can. We didn’t disband or give up,” she said. “I told the choir members that the ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances is the most important quality of a human.”
Through ZOOM, Reding can see and hear 20 different people, all of whom occupy a little box on her computer screen. The only catch is that she can’t hear them all simultaneously. That’s because each person has a different internet speed or a different computer speed, and that affects the time lag between a person singing a note and the rest of the audience hearing it. Unfortunately, that prevents the choir from holding a normal rehearsal.
“Even with the best internet equipment in the world, we wouldn’t be able to do simultaneous sound,” she said. “There’s too much digital info.”
However, the choir members do the next best thing. They can all hear the music that Reding plays on her computer. Each person mutes their own microphone and sings along to the music. Even though the choir members can’t hear each other during the song, they can talk to each other about parts of the song they want to review, measures they hope to improve, etc.
Reding said there is a silver lining to conducting rehearsals this way.
“When you sing in a choir, you think you’re hitting the right notes but you might not always be,” she said. “When you sing alone, you are more acutely aware of what parts you know well and which parts you need to practice more.”
Reding believes that these virtual rehearsals will allow the group to quickly create performance-quality music once it’s finally able to convene in person.
“Everyone enjoys the fact that we can continue to sing,” she said. “We can ask an individual to sing something so we all can hear it for a little bit.”
Reding isn’t sure if the concert scheduled for May will still happen on time. It could be pushed to June or July. But whenever it does happen, the chamber singers will be ready to deliver a concert for the ages.
“It’s going to be a fun and celebratory concert,” Reding said. “People need to be inspired. Everyone needs the healing music provides.”
The Chamber Singers received word that they would receive a neat honor through Iowa Public Radio. The radio station’s website announced that it would share its favorite choral performances from the around the state, and the Chamber Singers of Southeast Iowa were among just three groups featured on the first day.
Iowa Public Radio noted that the Chamber Singers were one of the select choirs invited to sing in the 2017 Carnegie Hall performance of the Requiem by Kim Andre Arnesen. The composer even invited the group to return to Carnegie this coming April, an event that was sadly canceled due to COVID-19.
“In their hometown of Fairfield, the Chamber Singers have performed to large audiences since their founding in 1991 by Elaine Reding,” wrote Barney Sherman on Iowa Public Radio’s website, introducing the group with a link to a 2011 video of Reding conducting the choir to Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure On This Shining Night.”
“The composer says that the James Agee poem needs music with a ‘long, lyrical line,’ and the Chamber Singers keep that line aloft from beginning to end without a hint of effort,” Sherman wrote.