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Singing larks 2 – “Firsts” 28th October 2020

The past seven months have been full of “firsts” for me. Before this March, I was not at all keen on video calls. I had never broadcast a live stream. There were a handful of videos on my You Tube channel and I was running seven choirs a week on top of teaching, performing solo concerts and the odd workshop.

Jessa leading her Singing For All group from the piano.
Leading from the piano at Singing For All – photo by Rebecca Rowan Photography.

But as soon as “all this” started, all I could do was work out how I could keep singing and keep my groups going, and this involved an unprecedented learning curve as I got to grips with zoom choirs, You Tube live streams, and finding as many new ways of singing as possible. In the past 7 months, I have added 100 videos to my You Tube channel, including 31 fieldsings and 29 live Singing For All sessions. In July I celebrated my 100th online group singing session and have since added around 30 more to the total. I have networked with other singers and choir leaders from all over the world and have even started writing songs for my groups (and others) to sing.

Even though “firsts” are a regular thing for me at the moment, I was particularly excited(and nervous!) about this week’s…

My first ever hybrid rehearsal – roomers and zoomers!

Since March, I have been running my Community Singers sessions online on zoom, and despite the obvious restrictions of these sessions, I have actually grown to love these uplifting Wednesday nights, and there are many positives to be found. Most of all, the singers are safe in their own homes, are able to catch up in the virtual tea-break, and can easily learn each other’s names from the zoom screens! My skills have developed so much over this time, and I still can’t quite believe I am confidently layering harmonies with a loop pedal several times a week!

However….some of my singers were really keen to get together in real life and, as I like to try and keep everyone happy, I decided to do something about it. Easingwold Priory agreed to hire me their hall (after approving my risk assessment which incorporated their thorough venue procedures as well as my choir-specific “rules”.)…. and I decided to go ahead with a trial “Roomers and Zoomers” session last Wednesday, 21st October. I admit that prior to the session, I was in a bit of a tizz. I had to totally dismantle my home audio set up : keyboard, stands, mic, mixer, laptop, etc etc…and set it all up again in the church hall! Not to mention the measuring, setting out and cleaning chairs, getting resources and songs ready, making sure the room was ready and that everyone had booked their place and signed up to all the rules – including maintaining a 2m distance at all times and keeping masked throughout.

Despite all this, I couldn’t wait to hear my community singers again!

This short highlights clip gives an idea of the atmosphere of the rooomers and zoomers session…..it was so lovely to hear all the voices again, and even those on zoom found it emotional to hear.

The feedback I have had has been really positive and encouraging – a few people were not too keen on singing in masks, and of course it doesn’t feel as friendly as our usual positions crammed into the town band room – BUT most people accepted those new conditions as the price to pay for the joy of singing together in a room as safely as possible.

Another first – Mick and I perform at The Joseph Rowntree Theatre! “Fields and Lanes” live on stage…

As I mentioned in my previous post, Mick and I have really enjoyed working together on our “Fields and lanes” show, and our performance at Easingwold Community Library in September was a very special moment for us. So, when Graham from The Joseph Rowntree Theatre got in touch, saying they were looking for a show to test out the theatre’s Covid-secure procedures, we were very keen to help out. We have performed in this gorgeous community run theatre together many times with York Musical Theatre Company and I have loved performing my one woman shows ” ‘Til the boys come home” and “Some enchanted Sondheim” there. (The excerpt below is a rehearsal recording of myself and Malcolm Maddock, preparing for our tribute to wartime women.)

On Saturday 24th October, we arrived at the theatre, both a little shaky, having not stepped foot in a theatre since March. Aided by fantastic lighting and sound technicians Mike and Ollie, we were soon underway with a quick, socially distanced “tech”, and in no time the “audience” (in fact theatre volunteers who had booked their spaces online to test out the covid-safe system) started arriving to be temperature checked and escorted to their socially distanced seats.

The view from the sound desk – photo by Ollie Nash

The blackness of the auditorium was a massive contrast to the blue skies(or grey clouds) of the outdoor performance spaces we were so used to. The audience, despite their spaced out arrangement and masked faces, responded so well and my Twitter feed was full of positive comments afterwards….we were so pleased to be able to perform our show in this very special theatre and hopefully it will pave the way for shows to be booked in with actual paying audiences….in fact, there is a provisional date for “Songbirds” for myself and Malcolm for Friday 20th November! York folks, check your diaries and watch this space!

That’s quite enough for now. I am having a slightly less scheduled week, aiming to fit in some family time, some rest time, some online training, and some time to plan my next 6 weeks of Singing Larks….hopefully to include more hybrid sessions, more zoom and You Tube sessions, and, fingers crossed, a live performance!

I will finish with a little taster of a new seasonal song I have been working on…some kind of recording should appear before too long..

Chill in the air, now that Winter is coming,

Soon the snowflakes will fall, fall to the ground.

Dark is the night, now that Winter is coming,

Dark skies are littered with stars, stars gently glow.

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