Ruth Campbell, a member of our alto section, shares her experiences of taking part in our online rehearsals
When the pandemic struck in 2020 and life as we knew it changed forever, our brilliant, creative, imaginative, Musical Director, Stephen Langston, got to work, set up Zoom rehearsals, and Merchant Voices Virtual Choir was born. Being a golden oldie, I had never heard of Zoom. I learned fast. It was such a thrill at the first rehearsal to connect with the outside world, welcome the serried ranks of many of my fellow choristers into my living room, chat with them and embark on a wonderful and fun adventure.
Vocal warm ups and raucous karaoke sessions, accompanied by super-energetic dancing by some, to online videos such as Dancing Queen, Shout and Hey Jude got sessions off to a rollicking start. The choice of repertoire for the year has been beautiful and light, ranging from Billy Joel’s soulful And So It Goes to film classics such as The Trolley Song from Meet Me in St Louis, Summertime from Porgy and Bess and It’s A Wonderful World from Good Morning Vietnam. On a more serious note it has been a joy to revise movements of some of the Requiems we have sung in the past.
In December 2020, Merchant Voices A Christmas Experience, our first online concert, launched on YouTube, featuring the choir, vocal and instrumental solos and readings, all artfully put together by Stephen. Our summer concert, The Golden Era of MGM, due in June 2021 will be even better. It will include some of the music mentioned so expect more great performances and superb technological wizardry. Word has it it may involve recording ourselves singing (eeek!).
“I want us to write an Oratorio/Fantasia” was a huge challenge Stephen gave us early in lockdown. Despite the scale and complexities of such an undertaking we rolled our sleeves up and got to work. A writers’ group was formed and after a year’s hard graft, a storyline has been developed, Stephen has written the opening music and a lyrics group is in the pipeline. We’re grateful to professionals for their input and guidance. The choir hopes to put on a large scale production of our “Scottish Fantasia” with professional soloists, musicians and a children's choir in June 2023.
If you’ve never heard of The Golden Ratio, all was explained to us by Stephen at a rehearsal when he told us about this theory in relation to musicals, the topic of his thesis for his Ph.D. This very erudite document passed all necessary scrutiny and there were great celebrations in January 2021 when our hardworking MD became a Doctor, something he likes to remind us of now from time to time when we get a bit obstreperous and don’t show him due deference and respect.
Fiona Preston, our diligent President, has had a weekly slot in rehearsals to keep us up to date with choir news and developments. As an introduction, she has had to endure blaring fanfares accompanied by photos of other Presidents worldwide, with some comparisons being none too flattering. Thankfully Fiona has taken it all in her stride with good grace and great forbearance. We are so grateful to her for her upbeat leadership and to the Committee for all their hard work behind the scenes keeping the choir going and getting us through this.
Another of our stars, our brilliant pianist, Gilmour, has also had his own spot, Gilmour’s The Gaffa, which kicks off with a picture of his face framed in a roll of duct tape (you couldn’t make it up). He introduces us to pieces of music and their composers, followed by a virtuoso performance of them by him. Very educational and beautiful to hear and it always reminds me, as it does with Stephen’s input, of how lucky Merchant Voices is to have the services of two extremely gifted professionals who are also great fun.
Interspersed with singing, Stephen has kept us entertained with a constant stream of hilarious cartoons, videos and sometimes footage of 20th century composers and conductors. And being Merchant Voices, we haven’t needed an excuse to have a party. All occasions have been celebrated with our typical gusto, fancy dress and a glass of wine or three – birthdays, Easter, ends of session, Halloween and Christmas. And did I mention doctorates?
Zoom rehearsals during the past year have been a lifeline, particularly for those of us who live alone, educational, calming, uplifting and fun, everything we’ve needed them to be. It will be wonderful to get back to face to face rehearsals. However, I’m sure those of us who have attended these sessions will always be grateful for memories of these special times which have helped us keep Merchant Voices going, forge stronger bonds, and continue making beautiful music, as well as providing much needed stimulation and camaraderie during challenging times.