Stay at Home Choir: Alone in a Crowd

Naomi Roseth writes about joining the Stay at Home Choir.

Prompted by the pandemic, two young London-based musicians started a new venture: ‘Stay at Home Choir’. Judy introduced me to their current project: Karl Jenkins’ ‘The Armed Man’ and I, along with five other MWC members registered, as did some seven thousand people from 70 countries. We are doing only five movements: Sanctus, Hymn before Action, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, and God shall wipe away all Tears. As I write we are rehearsing the Benedictus. At the end of August the whole project will come together in some sort of a virtual concert. I can’t imagine how that many voices can be put together coherently but I am both glad and curious to be one of these voices.

To begin with I thought I faced two challenges: mastering the technology and learning  the music. The technology was relatively easy. Perhaps made so because I read and heard Richard’s description of how his Cantiamo choir has managed theirs. The music still remains a challenge.

Each week we get the sound track for one of the movements. On my screen I see on the right Sir Karl Jenkins conducting the ’World Peace Orchestra’ in a past Berlin concert and on the left the score and I can switch from a whole choir version to my voice – soprano. I listen to it through my earphones and video record myself on my iPad. For each movement we can join a rehearsal led by one of the organisers – one for the sopranos/altos and another for the tenors/bases. There are also webinars with Sir Karl and two soloists talking about the piece in general and the particular movement we are rehearsing. We have a two-week period to rehearse, video record ourselves, then upload the product and send it off before rehearsing the next movement.

Am I glad to do it? I guess I am. It is good to rehearse, to learn some breathing and posture techniques, to sing, to work towards defined end and to try and improve my contribution. I am also grateful for the opportunity to watch and listen to Sir Karl Jenkins – such a highly renowned contemporary composer. I am awestruck by the technology that enables us to interact with thousands of people all over the world. And I am impressed by the efficient organisation of this mammoth project and the enthusiasm of the organisers.

But I can’t really say that I enjoy the singing. For several reasons: I am so dissatisfied with my voice. After weeks of no practice, it is flat and scratchy. Many home-rehearsals bring about an improvement but then comes the time that I have to send my recording and start practising the next movement and I just have to send off something that is far from satisfactory for me. I tell myself that my voice will merge with thousands others, who probably won’t be much better than mine. All the same, I worry about the long-term impact of this long drawn singing hiatus.

I also find the home rehearsals a weird experience. I watch and hear the tutor but on my screen I see lots of other women, their lips are moving and I can’t hear a thing. The tutor gets us to sing a couple of bars, and then she says “Excellent, well done” even though she heard not a thing. All a bit artificial and isolated.   In a way it makes me miss our MWC rehearsals even more than I do any way.

So in summary – I am pleased I rose to the technical challenge. Musically, I am sure that the YouTube rendition of The Armed Man with the London Symphony Orchestra would be a more pleasing experience. But all the same, I am glad to be involved in this project. Better to sing in isolation then not at all and good to know that people from so many countries have come together to sing in this Mass for Peace.

On the whole a very strange experience:  I am singing with thousands of other people but  I am still all alone behind my computer.