How Montreal Gospel Choir overcame COVID and had a very successful 10th season
In the spring of 2020 we had just completed our 24 hour choir getaway to Brome Lake when Quebec introduced the first shutdown measures meant to keep COVID19 from overwhelming the hospital system. We had one more « in person » rehearsal before we switched to Zoom-based rehearsals. Seeing other members on screen helped to maintain the connections we had built and we were able to encourage each other in this new strange environment, but a choir that functions with multi-voice harmonies cannot thrive in the Zoom environment where only one person can sing at a time. So, the 9th season of MGC ended with an online party toward the beginning of May but not the usual concert finale.
Over the summer, Carol regrouped and started sounding out the members about whether they would want to return to a new season in September where there was no promise that we could practise together let alone have concerts. An encouraging number of our members were up for going into this unknown together. So we began our 10th anniversary season. September rehearsals began live, with special singers masks, much hand-washing and disinfecting and 2 metre distancing between singers. The choir of 68 (that many returned!) was split into an early 6pm practice and a 7:45pm practice time slot and when the gathering limits in churches were reduced from 50 to 25 people we just asked some people to volunteer each week to attend the rehearsal by the simultaneous Zoom that would allow them to hear both Carol leading and the other live choir members singing. Much better than having everyone at home participating in a Zoom call. Our tight COVID protocol, good ventilation (windows open on both sides of the practice facility) and not a little bit of prayer enabled us to get to Christmas without having any spread of COVID as a result of the choir rehearsals. We had to settle for a small representation of MGC singers joining with Jireh Gospel Choir on a Christmas online concert project. We were able to perform before 1000 households by putting this Christmas concert on the internet.
January brought the start of the 3rd wave (or was it the 2nd?) so we stayed at home and tried to provide a variety of experiences to our choir members by introducing various challenges to individual members interpreting our gospel repertoire. It is a connected choir, so our Facebook Just Us group was very active, Zoom was used extensively to maintain community, not just for our weekly practices. And sometime in March we successfully launched the brilliant idea that all who wanted to perform together would be formed into a smaller choirs that could rehearse together under the 25 person limit with the goal of recording a concert finale for our 10th season. Over 50 choir members said « I do (want to perform) » so Carol balanced the voices into 3 MGC choirs and we had 4 Saturday rehearsals in April that gave every choir their separate rehearsal time and got the last ones home before the 8pm curfew.
There is an expression in French which applies well to the character of my wife, Carol. « Elle est quelqu’une qui fonce dans la vie. » There are, no doubt, many choirs who have had to forego singing together for over a year now. Some are school choirs and the directors, even if they wanted to maintain some aspect of normality in their choir life, would be restricted by the policy of their institutions. If we were in that situation this would have been an entirely down experience for us. Because this is what we do – we rehearse and we perform. This becomes the basis for a very strong community choir culture. If this was taken away from us, not only Carol, but each member would have had a vital part of their life taken away from them. Carol took advantage of all the opportunities when they presented themselves, remained flexible and this resulted in an entirely successful choir season. I am so proud of Carol, the dozen choir leaders, section leaders who took on greater roles and each member singer of MGC. Together we overcame COVID, and sealed the victory by recording a concert of 14 songs performed with an amazing live band. We are asking our friends and family all over the world to come (online) and see the result. Please join us by buying a ticket: https://thepointofsale.com/tickets/mgc10