Rehearsing in a Pandemic

To say that choral practice under pandemic conditions is a big challenge is an understatement! Our last pre-pandemic group rehearsal took place on March 10, 2020, more than 18 months ago. Since then, we have maintained connection mostly through Zoom sessions. But timing and synchronization of voices is fundamental to choral singing. Some research has shown that voices must be within one-third of a semitone, and within 40 milliseconds, of each other, to create a satisfying performance. Experienced choirs are closer than that. Standing shoulder to shoulder on the risers we listen and adapt to each other in pitch, tone, volume, and breathing. A study from Sweden indicated that even our heartbeats can become synchronized.

Internet applications such as Zoom have an inherent time lag in receiving a singer’s voice, and sending it back to others. This is variable, but can be a full second or more. We are therefore limited to listening to a previous performance, watching our director conduct, and singing just to ourselves. It’s a bit like treading water – keeping us afloat, but not swimming for gold, or getting us “performance ready”. Choirs worldwide have been struggling with this challenge.

On September 21st 2021 we inaugurated a “hybrid” rehearsal, which brought some members, as well as our director and accompanist, into our long-time rehearsal space at Vancouver’s Cambrian Hall. For mutual protection, all participants must be fully vaccinated, wearing face masks (including while singing – not ideal, but manageable for practice), physically distanced. We also have extra room ventilation to keep the air fresh. Our “live” session is connected through Zoom so that members can also participate remotely during this transition phase. Like everyone else, we will be adapting and adjusting week by week, watching the curve of the pandemic’s “fourth wave”, and awaiting further guidance from our provincial health authorities.