Choral Singing in the Age of Anxiety

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The new government directives announced on Sept. 28 should not affect choir and orchestra rehearsals so long as safety regulations are respected and the number of people participating is limited. To recap: private and public gatherings were banned until Oct. 28, except in places of worship or at funerals, where a maximum of 25 people were allowed. Public demonstrations were also permitted, so long as the two-metre rule was applied and masks were worn. 

“We would like as many artists as possible to continue working,” said Premier François Legault in a press briefing. “Whether broadcasting or recording, obviously following hygiene rules, that’s part of the job. We want to protect businesses – and they are businesses – but what we don’t want is several people in a hall running the risk of catching something after an hour and a half.” 

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Cancelled dates

Photo : François Goupil

While rehearsals themselves are not directly threatened, it may be that music directors and venue owners will reconsider hiring out their halls. The Chœur Métropolitain, which is affiliated with the Orchestre Métropolitain, has unfortunately suffered from this: The Conservatoire de musique de Montréal, where the choir normally rehearses, has suspended choral rehearsals through October. Consequently, the choir, directed by François A. Ouimet and Pierre Tourville, postponed rehearsals planned to begin on Sept. 30.

But this is just a continuation of the changes the choir has endured over the last months. Rehearsals and a concert on April 19 were cancelled, as were summer projects involving the Festival de Lanaudière and a concert in December, which will be replaced by a concert by a small group of professional choristers. Next on the schedule: A German Requiem by Brahms on April 28, 2021.

Finding solutions

Meanwhile, the directors of the Chœur Métropolitain want to keep reaching out to the public and, crucially, get their usual activities underway. They plan to offer workshops exploring core repertoire and song forms, while organizing rehearsals in two separate groups to limit the number of choristers in one place. “Every workshop is a chance to get  together to sing safely and have fun,” said Ouimet in a message to the choir members. “At the end of the evening, participants will have learned something and made some lovely music together.”

Workshops will be led by the two choirmasters alternately, and there will be a lightning tour of different genres such as the Renaissance madrigal, choral music at the time of J.S. Bach, the choral style of the Romantic period, some gems from the Quebec choral repertoire and a look at different sorts of world music for choir.

Together with Jennifer Bourdages, who is head of artistic development and director of choir personnel, Ouimet and Tourville plan to organize two groups and give each workshop twice. So that the  workshops are pleasant for the choristers, they need to form stable and well-balanced groups from one music stand to another (sopranos, altos, tenors and basses). The choirmasters are inviting choristers to commit themselves as much as possible through the fall. If a chorister has to be absent from a workshop or a rehearsal, his or her place will be taken by another choir member, which in the long run would be beneficial for all participants.

Health regulations

Photo : François Goupil

A hygiene plan has been set up to keep choristers safe. They must always wear a face covering, even while singing, and keep a distance of two metres from their neighbours, in accordance with government regulations. Before each session, the director will ask those present to sign a form to show they have read the plan, agree to respect it and accept the risks associated with this type of activity.

These health measures taken by the directors of the Chœur Métropolitain follow the recommendations of the Alliance chorale du Québec, set out in a “Guide to a safe return to practice,” made public over the summer. The ACQ recommends organizers restrict movement as far as possible during rehearsals, choose a well-ventilated or air-conditioned venue (in the absence of which all participants must wear a mask), and consider distributing the choir members differently (in a circle or back to back) to avoid contamination via respiratory droplets.

Most choirs have not yet officially announced their plans for the fall. At present, safety measures mean that only a limited number of choristers can sing in concerts. This is why only professional singers belonging to the Union des artistes were on stage at the Maison symphonique to perform Fauré’s Requiem with the Orchestre
Métropolitain on Oct. 16. The orchestra, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, will call on them once more for Bach’s Mass in B Minor, which closes the Montreal Bach Festival (Dec. 5 and 6).

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


About Author

Justin Bernard est détenteur d’un doctorat en musique de l’Université de Montréal. Ses recherches portent sur la médiation musicale, notamment par le biais des nouveaux outils numériques, ainsi que sur la relation entre opéra et cinéma. Membre de l’Observatoire interdisciplinaire de création et de recherche en musique (OICRM), il a réalisé une série de capsules vidéo éducatives pour l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Justin Bernard est également l’auteur de notes de programme pour le compte de la salle Bourgie du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal et chargé de cours à l’Université de Sherbrooke. Par ailleurs, il anime une émission d’opéra et une chronique musicale à Radio VM (91,3 FM).

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