By Jeanne Wohlgumuth
Finding a silver lining in a year that has been riddled with disappointments and life-changing events would seems to be daunting and virtually impossible. However, when given the opportunity to reflect on the past year, I find that there are many silver linings that have emerged from a somewhat horrendous situation.
Silver Lining #1 – In-Person Rehearsals/No COVID Transmission
New World Singers, the elite performing ensemble of the Columbus Children’s Choir (CCC), has been holding in-person rehearsals since September. There were many changes that had to occur to make this possible. These included smaller ensemble sizes, 6 ft. social distancing, opening all windows and doors (yes, even during the cold Ohio winter), turning off the HVAC system, purchasing Conway CADR HEPA Air Purifiers for each rehearsal room, taking temperatures and wearing masks, changing rehearsal rooms after 30 minutes, and fogging rehearsal room with isopropyl alcohol and letting them sit empty for 20-30 minutes.
While at first these changes felt very confining and restrictive the benefits have been innumerable. Most importantly, our organization has had NO transmission of COVID within our ensembles. We have now welcomed back all five of our ensembles and continue to maintain no COVID spread!
Silver Lining #2 – Musicianship
One of the biggest silver linings has been the opportunity for our singers to grow as strong, independent musicians. We have always made musicianship and literacy a major component of our choral program, but this year we have been able to closely monitor the growth and development of each singer, giving more time for individual assessment and immediate and transformational feedback. An increase in musicianship has likely helped to foster other outcomes including confidence which is highlighted in the next segment.
Silver Lining #3 – Confidence
From a singer’s perspective: This new arrangement has placed “more responsibility on my part in the ensemble because it comprises fewer people than in the whole choir—more ownership! Not many people I can rely on now, so I have to be stronger as a singer.” – Deanna
Silver Lining #4 – Commitment
While the majority of our singers (78 out of 86 singers) attend in-person rehearsal, there are some singers who, because of health issues, chose to attend rehearsal via zoom. These singers have pledged their commitment to their ensemble. They take their role in the ensemble seriously, always finding a quiet place in their home where they can fully engage in the rehearsal.
From a parent’s perspective: This serves as “a reminder of why my children are in CCC. Not for the uniforms. Not for the performances (although we do miss them). Not for the trips (although the disappointment still stings). They are CCC singers because they love to make music. They love to sing. They love to be surrounded by others who love to sing. Strip everything else away. They show up to sing.” – Molly
Silver Lining #5 – Few to no missed rehearsals
The use of Zoom has made absences from rehearsal virtually disappear. It has provided a way for singers who are ill to still be present during rehearsals. Singers who are traveling log on and participate from their cars, hotel rooms, parks, and so on.
Silver Lining #6 – Camaraderie/Relationships
Because of our smaller ensembles, singers have built relationships and a deeper esprit de corps. They have become more familiar with other members of the ensemble whom they might not have known very well. Their friend “bubble” has grown to include everyone in their ensemble.
From a singer’s perspective: “Since there are fewer people in each ensemble, we talk to everyone and we have become a lot closer. In the full choir everyone had their established friends and would not talk much to those outside of their circle.” – Izzy
Silver Lining #7 – Everyone Matters
It is hard for singers to imagine that 1 voice in a choir of 86 singers matters. In our smaller ensembles the singers are realizing the importance of every voice. They are realizing that a missing voice creates a different sounding ensemble. A singer who does not listen and strive to match unified vowels creates difficulty in tuning, and a lack of focus or concentration creates a frustrating and unproductive rehearsal for all.
In closing, I would like to highlight two poignant comments, the first from a singer and the second from a parent.
“This choir has taught me that even through tough times, music is the uniting force that uplifts the world. It definitely uplifts my mood with every rehearsal.” – Rhea
“We know that music has the power to heal, and I believe the students really got to experience that in depth this year through Columbus Children’s Choir. While so many students struggled being out of school or being in school only part time most of the year, thanks to your hard work our singers were still able to join together to create beautiful music. Although choir looked a bit different this year, it has allowed some sense of normalcy. The choir has provided something for the singers to look forward to every week. The rehearsals have allowed the children time to take a break from the bleakness of the past year; while in rehearsal their focus is solely on making music, allowing an escape from any depression or stress caused by the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. It has been a wonderful time for them to feel free, alive, and productive. I am confident that the Columbus Children’s Choir has saved more than one life this year.” – Annette
While we all look to a future where we can freely sing, rehearse, and perform again, it is important to not dwell on the negative, but try and find the “silver lining” in all that we do for our singers. The Columbus Children’s Choir will continue to sing . . . we will continue to share our human spirit through our voices and our music as it is vitally important to our society and to the well-being of humanity.
Throughout her forty-year career, Jeanne Wohlgamuth has been a tireless advocate for children at all levels from kindergarten through collegiate. She recently retired from Dublin Jerome High School as Director of Choirs and Performing Arts Chair and currently serves as the Artistic Director of the Columbus Children’s Choir where she oversees the artistic vision of the organization and directs New World Singers, the top performing ensemble, and Una Voce. She was just elected president-elect of the Ohio Choral Directors Association.