For about 60 years, Brenda Davis has been looking forward to Monday night.
It was then that Davis joined a group of around 150 singers rehearsing for the Anchorage Concert Chorus. Davis loves to sing, but that’s not what keeps her coming back year after year. These are the friendships and bonds she has forged.
âI have met so many old friends in the choir,â she said. “And I’ve often told people that I don’t know where I would be on a Monday night without the chorus.”
But since the pandemic started here in March, these friends are now little squares on her computer screen during virtual practices.
âI go to virtual rehearsals, but I don’t find it very rewarding,â she said. “My big thing with backing vocals is the social aspect – being with people and singing with people.”
The loss of in-person interactions has hit many members of the choir community hard, said Grant Cochran, who leads the Anchorage Concert Chorus and the University of Alaska Anchorage Choir.
And nothing makes this more evident than the holiday season, when music and tradition come together. Normally at this time of year, Anchorage Concert Chorus members would prepare for their holiday pop music show, perform at the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and get ready. to help the 74th annual Anchorage âMessiahâ community.
âIf the community is going to be missed at all this year, it will be during the holiday season,â Cochran said.
‘Just that big hole’
Among the performing arts, singing in particular has been significantly affected by the pandemic as it can easily turn into a supercasting event. In March, a Washington state choir grabbed national headlines when a social distancing rehearsal led to an outbreak of COVID-19 among members. Two died.
Cochran said the news rocked the choral community around the world. He canceled all performances and rehearsals in person. It was clear to him that the singing could not be done in person safely and many of the band are older, putting them at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, a- he declared.
“We will certainly feel a real absence,” he said. âMaybe like a family member who can’t come home for Christmas – a girl who lives out of state and won’t be able to come home this year – it will be like that. You know, just that big hole in your life.
Some choirs do virtual performances, said Peggy Benton, director of Alaska Sound Celebration, but it can’t really compare. In the pre-pandemic years, Alaska Sound Celebration singers spent this time of year singing greeting cards, surprising people in person or on the phone with a song.
âNo matter how hard you work and have connections, whether it’s through Zoom or through things available on the internet, it stays on one screen,â Benton said. âNothing replaces living art. Nothing replaces live music, live dancing, live theater.
Stephen McLallen, general manager of the Anchorage Concert Chorus, said it’s important to keep the band routine and provide some sort of normalcy, even if that means rehearsals are now being done online.
âThe big push for us was to keep our community together and keep people in touch,â McLallen said. âThis group has been around for over 50 years and they meet every Monday to rehearse forever. As soon as they lost this it was a big blow, especially for many of our older and more isolated members. “
Benton said going digital has been a challenge, as evidenced by the drop in attendance at rehearsals. Up to a third of the 70 members of the group no longer regularly attend rehearsals.
âIt’s tough because I have members who work full time and they zoom in all day, so you have to make it really interesting for them to want to log in on a Tuesday night for two hours,â Benton said.
Cochran said he has also lost limbs at the moment. Many older members had difficulty understanding the technology or found they just didn’t appreciate digital repeats.
The Anchorage Concert Chorus is currently preparing an online version of their holiday pop concert, Cochran said. It’s not the same thing, but it still helps to carry on the tradition.
The singers are recording at home and McLallen will edit the clips together to play them simultaneously, as if they are all singing together. The final product will be posted on YouTube.
Cochran hopes the performance will bring joy to people. Although traditions are different this year, he hopes people will take this time to create music with their families.
As for Benton, she said she kept remembering that one day things would get back to normal. And when they do, the songs will sound even louder and the vocals even more vibrant.
âThe arts give us this depth, these colors, these choices, these angles and this connection to the community and to ourselves, and it’s one-dimensional now. â¦ We will go to the other side of that, because I want this meaningful life, and the arts can give it to me and the community, âshe said.
Virtual holiday choral performances
7 p.m. Friday December 18: Alaska Chamber Singers will feature holiday favorites and classic gems on YouTube. Check out their Facebook page for the link or follow their YouTube channel.
Tuesday 22 December: The Anchorage Concert Chorus will present a virtual performance of holiday pops. Find more information at anchorageconcertchorus.org or check out their channel on YouTube.