By Holly Wolff
It is difficult to communicate to a non-singer what the first concert after 2 years of Covid means. In those years, our community has enjoyed the blessing of riding out the pandemic in a beautiful area, and the pain of losing family and friends.
Northern Lights Choir’s final rehearsal before the pandemic was on March 9, 2020- the same week a choir in Skagit County, Washington, while following all known cautions at the time, had a rehearsal that became one of the best-known super-spreader events in the choral world, with 52 of 61 choristers sickened and two deaths from the coronavirus1. As recently as May of 2022 in Boston, a performance of Britten’s War Requiem by the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood Chorus, with performers having negative tests but unmasked, caused 30 cases.4
Some choirs continued rehearsals using Zoom. I have to admit there are advantages to Zoom rehearsals- you can make mistakes nobody hears, and you can have a glass of wine while you rehearse. Those rehearsals were a great way to keep connected, and a great way for many people to keep singing. Singing muscles, like most everything else in the body, atrophy without use. But the North Country does not have the advantage of widespread broadband coverage available to some areas, and Northern Lights Choir went dark for 2 years. It was painful.
But why is it important?
Eric Whitacre, composer and conductor of huge virtual choirs (17572 singers from 129 countries2) says it’s “the core of what we are” He lays out the documented benefits- physical, social, and mental- of choral singing. It’s also more personal though. John Rutter, another famous composer and conductor, says “ (C)horal music…goes to the very heart of humanity, our sense of community, our souls”
Recently my sister, an investigative reporter and finalist for a Pulitzer, asked me why it was important to me. All those things Whitacre lays out are true. I describe it as similar to the way people describe to me playing basketball- you have to concentrate on your own position and skills as well as your teammates’ positions and skills and how to work together with them to succeed. It takes total concentration, they tell me. That’s what choral music is too. Not only do you have to be on pitch and in harmony (listening to both your fellow choristers and the piano), on tempo (watching the conductor), and reading the words and music accurately (practice), but choral music demands you FEEL what the music is saying in a way that communicates the message to the audience. You can’t think about anything else- not the problems of yesterday, today, or tomorrow. And it’s more. A choir is a family. Young people (Paul Smith’s students) to retired docs, and everything in between. We do this thing as a unit- literally in concert.
It is total concentration and a shared accomplishment, and joy, to perform a concert for you.
So when you see us on stage December 9, if some of us have tears, ignore them and ignore the masks that allow us to sing safely, and enjoy the soaring music chosen for its meaning to the season, to the choir, and to you.
We Rise Again!
Northern Lights Choir will perform its concert We Rise Again on Friday December 9, 2022 at St Bernard’s Church in Saranac Lake. Suggested ticket donation is $10, with tickets available at Ampersound and at the door.