Welcome to this summer series on questions and possibilities for a new era in our personal lives, professional lives, the choral landscape, and in society! I’m so glad you’re here for the journey.
The pandemic has thrown a wrench in a wide variety of organizations, including summer conferences. Out of caution, some organizations have decided not to hold a summer event. Others took a leap of faith that vaccines would be widely be available to adults by the summer and decided to hold events. Today’s post is about a church music workshop I attended in person and helped lead.
The Fellowship of United Methodists in Worship Arts (otherwise known as The Fellowship) is a professional organization for choir directors and choir members in United Methodist Churches. For over 65 years, the Florida chapter has hosted its own weeklong summer workshop, which includes worship services, choir rehearsals, reading sessions, and a variety of elective classes. An important part of the event is concurrent Adult and Youth (grade 6 – 12) workshops with some intergenerational activities.
After the success of a 100% Virtual Conference in 2020, questions lingered whether or not the workshop in 2021 would be in-person, online, or hybrid. When the planning team met in early January 2021, opinions were split. At that point, vaccines had started rolling out, but only a small percentage of adults had been vaccinated then. Some committee members wanted a totally virtual conference. Others were passionate about having an in-person workshop.
For those who wanted an in-person conference, a major factor was the Youth workshop. Without a youth workshop two years in a row, that program would greatly suffer and would have adversely impacted its momentum. When the workshop chair, Joan FitzGerald, asked for feedback, I said I was in favor of a totally online workshop, but I was willing to go along with the will of the committee. After consulting others, Joan decided to take a leap of faith and have an in-person workshop. At that point, I was uncomfortable attending in-person and would assist with an online component. Thankfully I was able to get vaccinated in April. As a result, I attended in person.
Immediately after the chair decided to hold an in-person workshop, we started planning. Adaptations with regards to COVID impacted the schedule. Participants arrived Monday night instead of Sunday night, thus reducing the length of the workshop by a day. Any activity involving singing was shortened to 30 minutes and that space had to air out for a minimum of 30 minutes after a rehearsal or worship service. Masks were required indoors when Adults and Youth were in the same room. For Adults only classes, masks were optional for those who were vaccinated. In lieu of a final concert where friends and family could attend, final performances were recorded.
As coordinator of the online component, I set three goals early on: people would feel connected to each other, be inspired artistically, and feel renewed spiritually. I established a tech team that was responsible for bringing any tech equipment necessary for a livestream. Based on the goals, I created the schedule and secured facilitators for a variety of online sessions. All the plans were set!
Regarding the Adult portion, attendees include both choir directors and choir members. Some have attended for many years, especially if they had attended as a middle or high school student. This is an incredibly special part of the workshop, as it’s a vital time for reconnecting with long-time friends. According to Joan, seeing people reconnect with friends was a highlight of the week. While continuing education is an important part of the week, the workshop goes beyond taking classes to improve one’s skills. It is a strong community that is a time of renewal for those who attend. According to the workshop chair, despite the necessary adaptations due to COVID, it was one of the smoothest run FL Chapter Fellowship Workshops.
As coordinator of the online component, I was thrilled. Inevitably, there were a few wrinkles regarding WiFi, but overall the live-stream events worked really well. I thought that I accomplished the initial goals I had set up months before the workshop started. I felt as if the online participants were connected to each other. Worship services were wonderful and choir rehearsals were inspiring.
I asked Joan her favorite moments and she had many. The worship services, especially the preaching, were a highlight. Not having the typical duties of a Director of Music for a week was also a blessing.
After the workshop, she and I had a short conversation regarding hybrid workshops in the future. We both agreed that it was very challenging to pull one off. One of the Fellowship members happened to have the right equipment. If he wasn’t able to attend, we would not have been able to pull off the live-streaming for online participants. However, some kind of online offering is good. Maybe one online hour-long event once a month? In another week or so, we’ll have a debriefing meeting with other members of the planning team. I suspect we’ll discuss these observations and decide on a format for future summer workshops.
For more information on the Florida Chapter of the Fellowship, go to www.floridafummwa.org
Based on my involvement, I thought of some questions I will reflect on during the summer:
- Community was essential to the workshop. What might I do to strengthen community in my own context?
- For members of church choirs who are reluctant to come back to choir in the fall, how do we help them stay connected to the choir community?
- As a church musician, how can I connect those worshipping online with those worshipping in person?