We are very pleased to introduce a new voice to ChoralNet blogging today. Shannon Gravelle posts today and beginning next Wednesday, will be posting every other week sharing interviews with a variety of choral professionals about their experiences during the pandemic and their plans as we look forward.
In March 2020, choral professionals made massive shifts in rehearsals and performances. In the last 15 months, we’ve created new ways to make music, found moments to connect in community, explored teaching music literacy virtually, and learned new technologies. Some organizations and institutions went completely online, while others found ways to make it work through events such as parking-lot sings and 30-minute, indoor rehearsals. Many concerts were presented online, and often featured a combination of virtual choirs and prerecorded performances. I was inspired by the amount of support and collaboration I saw among choral professionals. And, I’m sure like many others, I wondered “how will this change us?”
As we transition into whatever is next for the choral art, I suspect it will include the same innovation, support, collaboration, and work. Unless, I suppose, we are all okay with going back to exactly what we were doing before, which I doubt. Why not use this as a chance to reimagine and widen the community? COVID-19 disrupted our way of music making and much of our standard practice. We have questions to answer about recruitment, community building, and safety. We have questions to answer about our programs and curriculums, worship services and advocacy. We also have very real and unignorable questions about how our profession will work and attain greater equity. The process of answering these questions could result in exciting and needed movements forward if we are willing to keep the same focus on thinking outside-the-box. What risks are we, or are we not, willing to take moving forward?
To that end, and in the spirit of communal support and growth, this blog is going to focus on sharing the stories of choral professionals as we transition to a new “normal.” The conversations I have already had with friends tell me we have incredibly innovative colleagues who care immensely about the musicians they work with. Still, as we think about how to proceed next, there are a few lessons we can learn from our sudden thrust into COVID-19. For example, I know that in my own “pivot” (which is a word I admittedly loathe using at this point), I took the approach of “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.” It seemed like a good idea at the time, because I was sure there were going to be bits of my plans that fell away. In retrospect, I should have considered that one of my strengths is getting things done, regardless of late nights, stress levels, and the number of other demands. Hence, I was too busy. The silver lining is that I was involved in conversations with amazing choral professionals from across the states, conducted two premieres, learned how to work Adobe Premiere Pro, facilitated multiple workshops through my state ACDA, recorded concerts that were heard by alum across the world, and was inspired by collaborations with others. Had I done it differently, however, I would have made a far more comprehensive, prioritized plan (with a timeline and better estimation of the amount of hours my ideas would take). With that lesson in mind, I am planning for the next season of music-making.
Planning for the next season of music-making is where we all are. How do we learn from and honor the traditions that we learned in while creating a larger path for growth? Or don’t we? Are those traditions holding the choral profession back? Is this a chance for us to lean into each other’s wisdom? As we started doing in March 2020 once we adjusted to COVID-19, growth can come from the commitment to continue to listen to and learn from other choral professionals. I look forward to hearing the stories of my colleagues.
Dr. Shannon Gravelle (she/her) is currently the Director of Choral Activities and Coordinator of Music Education at Meredith College. She is committed to reimagining conducting pedagogy, telling authentic stories through the choral medium, and building strong community.
Gerry Schultz says
I am Founder / Executive Director of the California Redwood Chorale in Sonoma County. We are a regional SATB choir of 45 voices. We plan to begin in-person rehearsals at the beginning of August. To create the safest conditions, I encouraged every singer to get fully vaccinated and to verify their vaccination by sending me an image of their vac card. As of today, June 10, every singer is vaccinated as well as our Music Director and Accompanist. Even our members who are on hiatus and will be returning in January are vaccinated.
Our rehearsal space is very large with high ceilings, with doors and windows on both side that open to the outdoors.
We plan to give our traditional concerts on Thanksgiving weekend at two separate churches in the area. Both churches have welcomed our plans to give concerts there.
My goal was to first get the entire group vaccinated. Done! Then, we can rehearse in a very ventilated space again. I can reassure the churches that we are coming into their space as a fully vaccinated group. and we can assure our audience that we are a fully vaccinated group of singers.
My concern is now the audience! How do we monitor who is vaccinated or who has a recent negative test? I would prefer to only sell tickets to vaccinated people. But how do we trust “the honor system”? I can verify that the singers are fully vaccinated. But we cannot verify that the audience is.
If you have any comments or ideas, please contact me.
Executive Director / Founder
California Redwood Chorale
Shannon Marie Gravelle says
Gerry– these are great questions. And I think we’re all struggling a little bit with next steps. I’m hoping that through these conversations (shared in this blog series), we’ll start to get a sense of what ensembles (and composers or other choral professionals) plans are. What you are talking about is particularly tricky– we can only control so much. The question then becomes: What risks are we (or are we not) willing to take? At my institution, we are following state health guidelines…
Marie Grass Amenta says
Welcome to the community of ChoralNet Bloggers, Shannon! This will be a wonderful series….I know I have questions/ideas for my own work as we move toward the “new normal” (I HATE that term)and am interested in seeing what you and your readers have to say.
Marie Grass Amenta, ChoralNet Choral Potpourri/Choral Ethics blogger
Shannon Marie Gravelle says
Thanks– glad to be here and be able to amplify the stories of others! We’re all trying to decide what the next steps are– gives us a shared experience in which to work through!
Ms mary beekman says
I’m hoping to find out what plans non institutional choruses have for the coming season presuming all singers are vaccinated:
Rehearsals: real or virtual or combo?
If real, how long?
Rehearsal space: improved ventilation as before or same?
Audition process: real or virtual?
Absolute latest time to decide on virtual or not if season starts in September.
Shannon Marie Gravelle says
Good questions. They will definitely be addressed in some of these stories!
Hank Fellows says
Bravo to all of the Choral Directors who had to re-invent their curriculums and goals, and keep the music flowing during this pandemic!