The never ending shutdown for the arts

Posted: September 11, 2020 in choral, working musicians
Tags: , , ,
In sheer financial desperation, musicians have taken to robbing banks to pay the bills….No, this is The Gospel Project playing our one and only wedding this summer.

If you’re one of the people celebrating the discovery of the new world of remote working, you definitely don’t work in the arts. While I share the national enthusiasm for decreased commute times, and the long overdue realisation that it’s in nobody’s interests to have thousands of people sitting in traffic at the same time every morning + evening, it’s helpful if we also acknowledge that there is a lot of work of value that can’t be done remotely, and it can’t be done by a robot.

The concern among the artistic community right now is not simply that we’ve just lost 6 months of work, missing countless creative (and sometimes even remunerative!) performance opportunities during what is usually our busiest season. The scary thing is it’s not showing any sign of changing in the near future. Live performance as a concept appears to be cancelled, for the foreseeable. ‘Ah, but live streams’ I hear you cry. Ok, tell me long you actually tuned in for the last time you attended a live stream? And how much you contributed financially? We can’t pay the bills with positive feedback unfortunately.

I’m luckier than many in that there are two areas of what I do that can be at least attempted remotely, and those are teaching and choral direction. Teaching violin via Zoom is awkward, but it’s not impossible. Teaching choirs via Zoom, on the other hand….let me tell you a little about that:

Like many other conductors , I spent the first week or so of the shutdown chasing the ‘end of the rainbow’ software that would allow my choirs to sing together remotely. I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how anyone could be working around the latency issues – and just to prove the point I even tried it on Zoom with one of my more advanced choirs, to hilarious effect – but I kept hearing these marvellous tales of other ensembles….People would send links…’Have you tried this App? ‘You just need to adjust your audio settings’ ‘My friend’s choir is able to sing together on Zoom’ ‘What about a virtual choir’? So let’s put this to bed once and for all: there is no platform – not Zoom, nor Skype, nor the app that somebody you know is developing – that allows for singing together, in real time, in an online choral rehearsal. If your friend’s choir claims to be doing that, good for them, but I’d be very interested to know how. They may be putting a Virtual Choir together, á la Eric Whitacre, with each singer recording their line independently and the director collating and mixing all the recordings (and, most likely, discarding some of them!) Which is impressive, but quite a different beast to singing together live, in separate locations.

So, how to continue with choral rehearsals in the face of these limitations? Some choirs I work with have managed outdoor rehearsals, though obviously that’s tricky to plan for in Ireland, even in the summer, and its days are numbered once the weather changes. Some of us are meeting in very small sub groups, with singers in ‘pods’ in each others homes during Zoom rehearsals. Even though they can’t hear each other, singers appreciate the connection provided by the Zoom rehearsal as well. Gardiner Street Gospel Choir is continuing with our weekly mass, albeit online and with pre-recorded music.

Are any of these solutions anything like the face-to-face choral experience? Nope. Would I want to do it indefinitely, or under any other circumstances? No way. But these are not any other circumstances, and this is better than nothing.

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