Singing Together Remotely

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My choir was the first casualty of Covid-19, as we made the decision to stop meeting at the very start of the outbreak in London. Since then I’ve been exploring creative ways to keep singing, both on my own and with others. Inspired by a street in my neighbourhood where residents met every evening in the street, standing at a distance from one another, to sing for half an hour, I’ve been exploring different ways to sing together. My daughter and I signed up for Gareth Malone’s Great British Online Chorus.  I moved my weekly singing lesson onto zoom, in order to keep supporting my singing teacher, who has suddenly lost all of his income from teaching on an itinerant basis in schools. A raft of inspirational videos of choirs, singing together, from home, started to circulate.

We’ve discovered through all of the intensification of sociality that has emerged through platforms such as Zoom and Houseparty that singing together has its challenges – mainly because of lag. Trying to connect to my friends, using FaceTime or Houseparty, in order attend Gareth Malone’s rehearsals together we were unable to get our you tube streams to match up with each other on any device, meaning we were always slightly out of sync with each another. Gareth Malone reads through the you tube user comments as he teaches the choir, but with 100,000 or more members it is impossible to feel that your individual voice is heard. Planning for a close friend’s 40th birthday party, where three of us had intended to sing in harmony, we realised we were unable to sing together at the same time. In fact, the perception of singing together can only be achieved by merging prerecorded tracks (with the Acapella app soaring in popularity) to create a simulation of singing together.

This simulation give a false promise of perfect sound, one of the instances in which the digital in fact promises more than it can deliver. These mass choirs provide a new form of togetherness for sure – one achieved through mutual recognition of our screen-based presence. In fact, singing together online allows us to connect, but also reminds us of the limits of digital media to replicate the embodied experience of being in a choir, the sharing of rhythm, and of breath. This is the opposite experience I’ve had with online yoga classes in which I feel I can connect to my friends, and teacher, as we all move together. My teacher can even make adjustments and help our poses by watching us online. Something about the bodily experience of singing, of making a collaborative, perfectly joined up sound, is still elusive in on-line space.