Some reviews of past performances:
'The Choir did themselves many favours with a warm sound, clear entries and superb fugal singing.'
'This ... choir performs with a full-throated sense of joy... their presentation ... was vivid, fresh and moving ... full of expressive ardour.'
Manchester Evening News
'Salford Choral Society's singing was crisp, joyful and emotional, the phrasing live and rich with vocal colours.'
Manchester Evening News
'The orchestra, choir, soloists, and conductor, did themselves proud with this solid performance of what is quite a complex and technically challenging piece. Newall, especially, was interesting to watch as a conductor: he clearly loved every moment of conducting the Requiem and the orchestra and choir responded to his enthusiasm. Musically, the evening was full of drama and emotion and everyone involved has the right to be proud of their part in the performance.'
So we set to learning how to sing on zoom…. everyone has to be on ‘mute’ because of the latency between people across varying internet connections. What followed was a steep learning curve – conducting along to recordings, recording various vocal parts so I can ‘rehearse’ the music and isolate certain voices, emailing the music out to our members so they can look at the music and see the zoom call at the same time…the list goes on!
But it was a real tonic for us all in a worrying time; a slice of relative normality in a very abnormal world.
And so we put on an online concert in July 2020 for our members and their friends and family, all on zoom. We sang through the music we had been working on, and had some lovely readings from choir members.
The Summer bought me some time to ‘upskill’, and as the virus started to rage again in September, it was obvious we would be in this for the long haul. I bought some microphones and cables to make the sound and internet work better, which made a real difference, and we had put a covid-secure plan in place to allow me to work at Roddy, our pianist’s house to deliver rehearsals, all of which made a huge difference. I was now used to filming sections of rehearsal to camera and uploading extra resources to help the choir. The hardest thing of course, is not knowing exactly how to pitch the rehearsal as I can’t hear them. Luckily for me, I know the choir well and I think I can usually predict which sections require rehearsal quite accurately!
And so it came to our concerts. I wanted to re-enact the concert experience for our singers as closely as possible…but I wanted the experience to be ‘ours’ – a bespoke experience, rather than singing along to a recording from Spotify.
So we found a covid secure venue and hired four singers who would record our concerts, one voice to a part. First up was Mozart’s Requiem. I filmed it and conducted the whole piece into camera so the choir could see me conducting them in the concert. We did this over two filming sessions and then I quickly learned how to edit films together to create a coherent concert.
The tradition of Messiah at Salford Choral was certainly not going to be quelled by a global pandemic. So we did the same – with our hired singers singing one to a part and we even had a trumpeter record ‘The Trumpet shall Sound’ remotely and we were able to stitch it into the performance. A Christmas Concert soon followed, and we were really glad to be able to raise funds again this year for Salford Loaves and Fishes.
2021 dawned and with a vaccine, a hope for a return to live singing. We knew it was going to be a long path, so we committed to an online Spring Concert, which we presented at the end of March, with a good audience online including a number of our patrons, VIPs and the new ceremonial mayor of Salford.
So, what does the future hold?
As difficult as this year has been, I think we have learned so many new technologies we will use in the future. Presenting our concerts online to reach a wider audience, filming our rehearsals for those who can’t make it, and what if it snows on choir night? We can rehearse on zoom!
I see a future in music of a hybrid way of delivering music – bringing together elements of digital and live and I think this is how classical music will take itself forward.
For now, we’re preparing a concert of opera choruses, with some musical theatre and Gilbert and Sullivan thrown in. Soon we will be starting our ‘rule of six sings’ where I will be meeting with up to five other choir members for outdoor, socially distanced singing sessions to start to find our collective voice again.
And then, when restrictions are sufficiently eased, we will begin live rehearsals. I envisage these will be socially distanced and in lower numbers than normal, and with other singers joining the rehearsal online, but it will be a cumulative journey. I suspect the transition into live will have its own set of challenges and lessons to be learned, but this is such a resilient ensemble that has not been fazed by the challenges of the last year, I’m looking forward to being back in a rehearsal room with them again soon.
We are cautiously optimistic about next season – a hope for live events, including a live Messiah. And in January 2022, our newly commissioned piece The Gardeners by Lucy Armstrong and Rebecca Hurst goes into rehearsal with a premiere in April 2022 at the RNCM.
They say the show must go on – and it certainly has at Salford Choral Society!
In March 2020 our lives were put on pause in a way unimaginable to us even a month before. Events were cancelled across the world, shops shuttered and we were all told to 'stay home’.
We were ten days away from performing Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ at the RNCM with a fantastic line-up of soloists and Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra. The choir were in fine form and were heading for an excellent performance. But this was not to be…
A quick consultation with some colleagues and I had downloaded zoom and was trying to think about how we can keep the choir singing during the lockdown. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking we would be living in lockdown for a few weeks, and our Summer Concert would probably be fine. How wrong I was. As I write this in April 2021, we have just completed a year online, and our fifth digital concert!
Singing through a global pandemic