COVID-19 and a Plan for Young Voices
by Jena Dickey, Founder and Artistic Director
We had just returned from performing the Opening Concert for Southwestern ACDA when things started to shut down. Sure, our concert collaborators from South Korea had to cancel their trip due to travel restrictions, but we didn’t think that would really affect us. No one ever suspected that a little virus twelve time-zones away could do this to the whole world! Luckily YVC’s top groups, Signature and VoiceMale, were still flying high from their trip to Little Rock—even after they got off the plane. Then, without warning, spring breaks were extended through the end of the year, and all of our plans to continue our journey to “captivating concerts” came to a screeching halt.
We were okay meeting by Zoom at our rehearsal times each week, and the kids loved seeing each other. But we realized that the best part of choral singing is getting together, building relationships, blending, tuning and enjoying the ring and buzz that only singing in a choir can give you. Standing in the middle of 30 or 40 of your best friends and locking in a chord is a feeling no one can describe, and it just can’t be done over the internet. No matter how much technology, how many VOIP and high-speed wireless connections you can muster, the freeze-ups and the delays make the process frustrating, to say the least.
We didn’t just lose our spring concert, school tours, gig with Brit Floyd at Red Rocks, invitation to sing the National Anthem for the Rockies on Father’s Day and, worst of all, our 15th annual Sing A Mile High International Children’s Choral Festival. We lost something even more valuable that those performances—our rehearsal time together. People outside our circle seem not to understand that it is in rehearsal that we experience the joy of hard work and the reward of its pay-off. This is when we move our songs from clueless to caring to convincing, and we finally arrive at our goal.
We learned that turning our attention to Music Theory worked, and all of our most experienced singers passed their exam equivalent to the Royal School of Music Level One. Some went further and are now working on Levels Two through Five. But this is a primarily left-brained activity. We published audio recordings and digital practice files on our Google Drive, and asked our singers to practice on their own, in their own space. On our Zoom chats we talked about singing, listened to singing and actually sang (alone at home) without mics. We also watched each other’s lips sync with their version of the rhythm, but we could not be in the same room with each other or experience that lovely collaboration. Can a person actually blend without another person to blend with? Well, if they can, it’s hard to get excited about it.
Yet almost all of our singers from this abbreviated, disadvantaged spring semester have signed up to return in the fall. What great memories they must have from “B.C.” (before COVID). Our directors are researching more advanced ways to communicate remotely through technology, and we are hopeful that online rehearsing will continue to evolve. But we do see the need to return to our wonderful choir rooms and those now-displaced vibes of our voices harmonizing again.
In planning a return to normalcy, whatever that is, the number one goal of Young Voices’ staff and Board is to protect the health of our singers and their families. We are studying like mad all of the facts, figures and recommendations of the Center for Disease Control, the Colorado Department of Education and our Governor’s office. We are also taking into consideration the latest research in the spread of COVID-19 through “aerosols,” which seem to be the media of contagion and are produced more forcefully through coughing, sneezing and—guess what—singing! We are taking this very seriously.
We live for creating this music, feeling it soar, sharing that joy with kids, helping them to understand and improve, and inspiring our audiences with the finished product. It’s what we do best, and it’s what we desperately want to continue. But we will only do what we believe is safe, and at this point (May 30, 2020) we simply do not have enough information. We know however that, as important as their physical health is, the students’ mental health and time to socialize with friends is also a priority, and we are compelled to try harder.
We believe that it is not safe for us to hold summer classes in person, and that is the reason we had to cancel our summer festival, which provides a large portion of our annual budget (sigh). However, we plan to offer a supplemental set of courses online for our continuing students in two music disciplines that are challenging but rewarding, useful and fun: Margie will teach Music Theory in three different levels, and Jena will teach Solfège, also in three different levels. And we will invite the parents to sit in on these classes and learn along with the kids. (It’s a secret plot to convince them that they too can learn to read music!)
For fall, we believe the best and safest way to continue with our program is to divide the students up into small rehearsal groups where they can be together in our choir rooms but remain “socially-distanced.” These groups will not only be smaller and safer, but they will also run more efficiently for several reasons. We will store our risers and shells at another location, and we will become experts in the art of disinfection. As we glean more information, we will be able to better predict the number of children that can sing and learn safely in our rooms at the same time, but right now we can only guess.
For now, the entire staff is working harder than ever to research and learn the new technology that is being currently developed, technology that can help us teach more effectively online now and in person in the future. We know that learning these strategies will make us smarter and stronger, although this route to excellence is not one we would have designed or chosen!
Please stay tuned and celebrate with us when we get “there.”