The pandemic affected everyone’s lives, and for the choir groups, they faced their own unique challenges during this time. Since March 2020, none of the groups have been able to gather in person.
However, the same pandemic that forced the community into isolation brought some of the groups closer within their membership, looking forward to the day when things can resume as normal.
Creating New Ways to Practice
One of the biggest challenges for these choir groups was how to practice with in-person activities halted. Video conference meetings were not suited for two or more people to speak at the same time, preventing the ability to harmonize with each other effectively in a virtual setting. In addition to that, organizers and instructors found it a challenge to keep motivating the members when there were no upcoming performances. It required everyone to be creative to continue moving on amidst the pandemic.
The first step was to get everyone online. For Sakura Chorus, key members volunteered as trainers and spent a few weeks to get all the members online and be able to participate in online practices.
Once online, some groups held individualized rehearsals for each vocal section in order to practice efficiently and effectively. Naoko Suga from South Bay Singers shared, “To make sure each member gets time to sing and get feedback from the instructor, we decided to divide the chorus into smaller groups according to their vocal group.”
Meanwhile, LA Men’s Glee Club took advantage of being able to hear one person as a way to provide “solo” moments for these members. They shared, “While it is far from anything like an in-person practice, this practice style of muting everyone else and having one person spotlighted to sing, brought a different sense of nervousness and tension in a good way.”
Keeping the members motivated presented another challenge, but some groups like Orange County Friendship Choir and Sakura Chorus overcame this by participating in online recording projects, where individuals record separately, and then their audio gets put into one video as a recording project. These online recording projects, such as the 10th anniversary event for the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami victims (hosted by The Bridge Project, LA choir members organized by Naoko Suga, South Bay Singers instructor), allowed participants to sing songs to cheer on Japan, which became opportunities for participants to look forward to.
Social Space for Everyone
In addition to practicing, the online environment also evolved to become an important social space to stay connected with others for all the groups.
Naoko shared, “At the beginning of the pandemic, many of the older singers suffered from loneliness, loss of purpose, and depression. I spent many lessons and rehearsals listening and encouraging the members.” South Bay Singers also found positive outcomes from forming smaller online groups as it “has helped them connect with each other in a way that wasn’t possible before the pandemic.”
The in-person social gatherings for LA Men’s Glee club became virtual ones, continuing the tradition that was there already.
For Sakura Chorus, they held once-a-month “My News” corner (1st Tuesday of the month) gatherings where two volunteers share different aspects of their livelihood during the lockdown as a way to stay connected. The group also went beyond weekly meetings to create a publication for their groups titled “Sakura Namiki,” collecting these narratives together into one booklet.
Music as a Relief
All of the groups are looking forward to resuming in-person practice once it is safe to do so. Each group also agrees that music, and their members, have allowed them to endure through this difficult time in different ways, together.
One Orange County Friendship Choir member shared, “This past year has taught me how our mental state can be so impacted by living a life restricted from seeing people. It was very easy to get used to a very dull routine lifestyle given the pandemic. But the times I [enjoyed] music with others [were the times] where I [was able to] ease my sense of anxiety and nervousness.”
Naoko shared, “Music wasn’t and isn’t a cure all, but I strongly believe it gave people a moment of respite in a very uncertain and scary time in our lives.”