A LASTING ALTERNATIVE
“It came out of necessity really. It all happened very quickly.” So begins the story of the My Pop Choir virtual singers. Alex Fiddes, owner/director of My Pop Choir, explains how the organization’s successful virtual choir first came into being, as a result of the pandemic.
“After the country shut down [in March 2020], there was a lot of uncertainty about things happening,” Alex recalls.
The winter term of My Pop Choir had just finished. “Typically, we have a month between winter and spring, so basically, we had a month where we went from planning a new regular spring term, to what do we do instead?”
Alex and his wife, Kelly McNamee, decided to try a virtual choir.
“Kelly has some video editing experience and I have some audio editing experience and we have some technology skills that we thought might work to create something that would be dynamic, interesting and doable as an alternative to in-person singing.”
All within the span of one month of brainstorming, designing, and communicating, Alex and Kelly took My Pop Choir from in-person groups in Oakville, Burlington, Richmond Hill, Lawrence Park, and Etobicoke to the opening of a new virtual term in April, 2020.
“And the end result from what we had that first virtual term was pretty similar to what we ended up doing throughout, with some fine tuning and upgrading as the terms and years went on,” says Alex.
Most virtual choirs during the pandemic were on Zoom. The director was unmuted and would teach parts and then the choir would stay muted throughout the duration of the session. No one could hear each other at any point. Alex felt that this model was missing what the crucial part of a choir is like – singing in harmony.
So how does the virtual My Pop Choir provide that experience?
Alex explains: “We do a YouTube video, which is a recording of me teaching a full choir session. When it’s time to have multiple voices sing together, you actually hear multiple voices singing together, which are pre-recordings of Melissa [one of the My Pop Choir directors] and myself singing those layers.”
Do the singers hear each other live? “That’s largely impossible,” says Alex. “Instead, you hear the other parts being sung so there’s still that richness of harmony. You hear that blend happening, your relationship with the other vocal parts and that sensation of being in a choir. That’s what’s unique to My Pop Choir and why I believe that it is still so successful.”
In addition to the video recording, the virtual My Pop Choir offers two other ways of letting singers feel part of the group. Before the YouTube session premieres, there is a one-hour Zoom meeting in which all members can participate.
“We have 30 minutes of casual socializing where people can hang out and be together,” Alex explains. “And then another 30 minutes where I go through some material, talk about the term and answer any questions people may have.”
During this second 30-minutes, Alex also leads the group in a warm-up, similar to what happens at the in-person choirs. “The Zoom socializing fills a much-needed hole, in that choir is ultimately a very social thing,” says Alex.
In addition, there is a live chat during the choir session, offering a second opportunity for singers to connect. During this time, while there are certainly questions and comments regarding the material, there are also plenty of humorous asides, also a feature of the My Pop Choir experience.
Alex points out that most post-pandemic, virtual choirs are finishing up, and indeed are almost non-existent at this point. However, he plans to continue the virtual My Pop Choir.
“I believe there is a place for a virtual choir like this indefinitely. What started as a pandemic solution has turned into something else. There’s a need for this for people who are always going to have a challenge with in-person choir – for a lot of reasons.”
As he points out, many people in rural communities don’t have access to a choir. “There isn’t one in their communities and therefore there is simply no way for them to be part of a choir. The location is limitless for this. We’ve had people from Australia and Texas and New Jersey, Missouri, and in almost every province across Canada.”
Then there are folks who have mobility issues or other challenges in getting out to a weekly session. “This is a perfect solution as you can connect to this choir from the comfort of your own home. And there are people who have Covid woes and still want to keep themselves safe.”
Imagine a cold winter’s night when you have managed to commute home and the last thing you want to do is venture outside again. “You can sing in yoga pants or with a glass of wine in hand, maybe sitting in bed,” Alex says, laughing.
Members of the in-person choirs can join in on the virtual sessions as well (at no extra cost). If you go on holiday, for instance, you can tune in from wherever you are in the world. Or you can go home and catch up on the weeks you have missed, as the YouTube videos for the term are always available. Offering a virtual option also keeps folks who might be sick from attending choir.
“Our virtual My Pop Choir is the ultimate in comfort and convenience!” Alex concludes.