by Kathleen Holman
The Fourth Choir moved to Zoom rehearsals in March and postponed indefinitely our spring and summer concerts. We’ve continued to have weekly virtual rehearsals because we took a survey and members said they wanted that. Everyone felt it was important to keep in touch with each other, so we could be supportive of each other during this difficult time. We also wanted to remain ‘vocally fit’ so that when we do get back together in person, we won’t have lost too much from not singing together.
Because we have continued to provide musical and social benefits to members, we have also been able to raise donations and provide income to Dominic Ellis-Peckham, our Artistic Director, who, like all professional musicians, has been financially affected by the lock down. Supporting professional musicians has always been something the choir leadership is passionate about.
Our Zoom rehearsals start with an extended warm up led by Dominic, with vocal and physical exercises – which people say is one of the best parts of the rehearsal.
After the warm up, we have ‘Sing Share’. During the week, members are invited to record solos in a common genre – like folk songs, oratorios, or musical theatre. This a continuation of a long-standing tradition the choir has of holding cabarets and recitals at our end-of-term parties and weekend retreats. We then play these recordings to the other members attending the Zoom rehearsal. Usually 3 to 4 people submit a solo recording each week. Sometimes it becomes a mini Masterclass, with Dominic giving vocal feedback to the singer. Some members experiment with singing multiple voice parts on the Acapella app, and the results are fantastic. This has been a wonderful way to build trust and get to know each other better as well – we’ve even been able to integrate several new members this way.
Dominic then leads us in a choral exercise that is suitable for Zoom. It may be a sing-through, or notes on a virtual project we are recording in lockdown, or technical instruction on a song we want to perform in the future. We might also listen to a few recordings on a familiar piece and discuss what we have heard.
We have recorded a few choral songs in lockdown and these have culminated in a video that we published for Pride. We did this because we thought it was important to keep in contact with our audiences and supporters, as well to have something for the choir members to be proud of from this time. And the weeks leading up to the premiere were a bit more pressure-filled and exciting, just like a real concert would have been. As an LGBT+ choir, we have a lot of context to draw from in our musical choices, our commissions, arrangements and content, and this is reflected in our virtual Pride celebration. You can view our Pride event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKr9bWDGikE&feature=youtu.be
We haven’t set out to learn any lessons along the way – we are just keeping familiar aspects of the choir culture going in a virtual format. We have had to accept that this is the norm for the time being. As any start date is out of our hands, we just need to make the best of this situation. However, individuals have found that making their solo recordings and working on the virtual projects challenging and rewarding in equal measure.
Our virtual connections are a reflection of how precious our communal experience has become to choir members. Like all other choirs, we don’t know when and how we will be able to meet in person again. But until then, we will most likely carry on with virtual rehearsals and evolve our format, as well as make a few more recordings together.
By Ed Long
The Fourth Choir stands in solidarity with the black community in the US, the UK and around the world.
We demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and all victims of racist violence.
We honour all those fighting for change, through protest, organising, donations, raising awareness, providing medical and mental health support, journalism and legal action.
As an LGBT+ choir we owe a debt to all those who took risks and fought back to attain the rights we enjoy today. Figures like Stormé DeLarverie, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera – queer black and Latinx campaigners who took a stand against harassment by a corrupt police force and kicked off the Stonewall uprising.
More recently, Lady Phyll’s work founding UK Black Pride in 2005, and subsequently in partnership with Stonewall, has been transformative in celebrating, supporting and empowering queer people of colour in Britain. This has uplifted the whole LGBT+ community.
As a (currently) majority white choir, we also recognise that this is not only an external struggle. During our last online rehearsal, our members took time to reflect on and affirm our own responsibilities in practising active allyship to our black and BAME communities, challenging racism and effecting change in our own circles.
While music and the arts have enormous power to bring people together and raise awareness, they also have barriers to entry, are selective in their representation of creative talent and can easily be vehicles for culturally insensitive performance or appropriation.
We celebrate the black composers, arrangers and writers whose works we have sung, the singers and musicians we have performed with, and the actors and readers who have contributed to our concerts.
But we know we can do better. Classical music (and choral music in particular) is often overwhelmingly white across its performers, audiences, composers and librettists. We know there is more we can do to change this, through our membership, programming and collaborations and are determined to do so.
There is no pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.
Please support and donate to:
UK Black Pride - promoting unity and cooperation among LGBTQ people of diasporic communities in the UK
Black Lives Matter UK - working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise
Chineke! Foundation - supporting Black and Minority Ethnic classical musicians in the UK and Europe
Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust - helping young people overcome discrimination and businesses be more inclusive of diverse talent
UK LGIG - supporting LGBTQI+ Asylum Seekers & Refugees