I am a longtime member of Palmer and I sing in the Palmer Choir. When I was asked to share an I Am Palmer essay on the choir experience during the pandemic, I was delighted but at the same time a bit overwhelmed trying to put into words what this past year has been like. Thinking back to last March when this virus first shut down our world, I innocently assumed we'd be back to normal in a couple of months, maybe three at the most. Ha! Little did I know a year later we would still not be back to normal, but it's amazing to think of what has been accomplished at Palmer to keep the services, programs, events, and the amazing music program going as a lifeline to so many.
A little background about me and the choir. I came to a Palmer evensong almost 20 years ago (wow!) and knew right away I had to be a part of this choir. I had never heard such beautiful music and immediately ran up the stairs to the loft to ask Brady if I could join the choir. Little did I know I had found a community that would end up being a critical anchor for me in the years to come. A bonus on top of that was meeting my husband Brendan, the bearded bass, 11 years ago through the Palmer choir! I can't express how appreciative I am of this unique, intelligent, caring church.
But back to the pandemic. When this virus first hit, we of course weren't sure what this meant for the choir. We were a well-oiled machine, rehearsing every Wednesday night and singing every Sunday morning, rain or shine! What would we do now? Plans quickly came into place for online services that would have to involve a smaller choir for safety. With some trial and error, we were able to solidify a process of rehearsals and recordings on Wednesdays and Saturdays to be used in the online services we now see every Sunday. But how odd did it feel singing to an empty church! It was initially difficult to infuse the same passion in our singing without the energy of the congregation there and took some time for us to be assured we could still "make magic" in sharing our voices virtually.
We've come a long way since we first started down this path, having to adjust where singers would stand, where the mics would be placed, how the cameras would be set up, and working with a more condensed schedule with less singers and less rehearsal time.
On top of all this, safety was of course a huge priority from the beginning, which included all of us wearing singers' masks in order to perform responsibly. These were initially challenging with the thick fabric and the fact they create a sense of restricted breathing at times, but we've gotten more used to them over time and are thankful they haven't prevented our sound from coming through!
Another big challenge has been dealing with all of us spread so far apart in the nave. We were used to being a tightly grouped ensemble in the loft where we could hear those around us and adjust tempos, dynamics and pitches on-the-fly. We were used to having Brady close to us, leading us with his unwavering energy through each piece. We were used to latching onto the organists bringing each of those pieces to life with their intuitive playing. The pandemic stripped that sense of comfort away.
In this set up, we all struggled with not hearing anyone but ourselves. And for me, not being able to tune into other sopranos and the choir as a whole was crippling! Plus being on the other side of the nave from Brady and the organ felt like we were performing in different worlds. It became painfully obvious we as the choir would have to elevate our listening skills and pour a whole new level of spirit and energy into our singing to bridge the gap. Believe me, what you see in the services online is a workout for everyone! We've now seen in this online world how we can continue to breathe life into the music program week after week.
At this point, all that felt so strange in this virtual world has now become normal. It's not easy but it's something I have latched onto, finding beauty in the struggle and a different sense of accomplishment I hadn't felt before with singing. As I think about how close we are to moving passed this quarantined environment, I am curious what this will mean for the music program and what the post-pandemic normal will look like.
All I can do at this point is to continue to stay flexible and be grateful for the perseverance we've all shown as a church family. And I can't wait till the full choir is together again singing our hearts out in the loft to a full congregation. What a day that will be!