Singing Outside the Box

‹-- PreviousNext --›


When the rules in England changed mid-August to allow group singing within certain guidelines, the Telfordaires were one of the first groups out of the blocks to restart live sessions. Our main rehearsal each week remains online, so that it is accessible for everyone (including those having to quarantine or self-isolate, both of which have occurred in recent weeks), but we have added optional ‘weekend supplement sessions’ for smaller groups to experience live harmonising.

Part of our decision back in March to start remote rehearsing some days before the UK went into lockdown was that we didn’t want those who were vulnerable – and thus already disadvantaged by circumstance – to have to miss out on the nice things. In a similar spirit, we established the principle for our return to live singing that anything we did that didn’t include everyone should have a focus on improving things for the whole chorus.

To begin with, I confess, I wasn’t entirely sure what that would entail. But having spent a lot of this year embarking on things without really knowing how they were to be achieved, I trusted that we’d be able to figure it out as we went.

In the first instance, it mostly involved harvesting bits of recording to feed into main rehearsals. It’s not the same as making the overtones in real time, but being able to hear overtones created just four days earlier is pretty special. And of course, in the larger scheme of things, reconnecting with our ensemble skills helps sustain the chorus so that when we can properly sing together again we won’t have so much rebuilding to do. (And, boy, how everyone listens! Such a treat to have other people to respond to!)

But it has gradually come into focus that the live sessions can make their best contribution diagnostically. I have regularly worked with maybe 4-7 individual voices each week since we went online, so have been able to keep in touch with how people are doing, but whilst this is brilliant for meeting individual needs, it’s hard to assess the needs of the group as a whole this way. Hearing all the people who are present for the entire hour we are working together on a Saturday gives me a much richer picture of where everyone’s at. The live sessions can thus directly guide what we work on together at our virtual rehearsals.

And it became apparent in those live sessions that 6 months singing into small devices has somewhat disconnected the voices. For all we make the difference between ‘hunched over the computer position’ and ‘singing position’ every week, and clearly mark the transition from one to the other, you can hear that the voices’ underpinnings have become a little intermittent.

We talked about this amongst the Music Team, one of whom made the perceptive comment that singing outside had put into perspective how much he had got used to singing ‘inside a little box’. By which he meant in part that he attends rehearsals from a small room, but also consequently that sense of being psychologically boxed in: the visual experience of Zoom shapes the emotional reality.

Hence the title of this post: we needed ways to help people sing out of their little boxes in our online rehearsals. Here is the initial set of strategies we devised:

  • Consider the physical set-up of people’s rehearsal space: encourage people to adjust the position of their devices so that they can stand tall to sing while looking at them. And where that’s not entirely possible, to prioritise the standing tall bit over getting their faces on-screen. Nobody minds mind looking up each other’s noses while they sing if they’re doing it with poise and commitment.
  • All members of the team involved in leading activities to keep an eye on posture and give more frequent reminders. These are skills that we know people can apply, and will apply when asked. If we ask more often, we help with positive habits
  • Develop a mindset of singing beyond the screen. Rather than singing to the flat surface close in front of us, sing to a spot 8 feet beyond the screen, or even through the wall and halfway across the street. The space we sing for doesn’t have to be the same dimensions as the space we are actually in.
  • An extension to this was to sing in an imaginary concert hall. Interestingly, putting ourselves in Carnegie Hall singing to a huge crowd of fans was an image my former choir Magenta used to use to develop performing confidence rather than vocal technique, but given the way that mind and body work together, you can aim for either of those goals and get both.
  • Use physical movement to re-engage the body. Walking about is not so viable if you are tethered to your laptop by your headphone cables, but we can still get our lower bodies moving with the music. And using gesture as a way to think through the music opens people up both physically and expressively.
  • I noted in my previous post how conducting gesture can creep quite high in the Zoom environment, and it turns out that this is something I too need to work on. Going back to the first point, it’s largely about having the discipline to step back far enough to get my full upper body on screen when I get up from operating the machine.

And of course, the nice thing about all of these strategies is that they reward you with an immediate upgrade in resonance and freedom, so whilst it requires making the effort to apply them, they make it worth your while.

...found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may wish to make a donation to the causes I support to say thank you.

Archive by date

Syndicate content