By Tess Berry-Hart, Citizens of the World Choir
“Nothing is the same for us now in terms of our physical life. But I look forward to every Wednesday and am so grateful to see everyone’s faces. It makes me feel happy knowing that we are all still together.” Ijeoma, choir member
In early March 2020, our choir of refugees and friends were busily preparing to start our seventh season. We’d heard of the coronavirus – who hadn’t? – but in those very early days before social distancing and lockdown were even part of everyday vocabulary, we weren’t aware of just how much our lives were about to change.
Three years ago when I first blogged for Refugee Week, the Citizens of the World Choir were just beginning our journey. In three years we’d grown from a small group whose members had mainly never sung or performed in public before, to a confident and inclusive choir from more than 29 countries who have performed on BBC TV and radio as well as The Globe Theatre, St Paul’s Cathedral, and many other high profile venues.
What we’d never expected was that we would be spending our seventh season singing together … from our living rooms.
“Online rehearsals improve my way to listen to music” Mernia, choir member
Like all organisations, once the impact of the coronavirus became apparent, we initially had to field more questions than answers. How will we keep our community together? What should we do to safeguard our elders and vulnerable members? How will we be able to rehearse online?
The first priority was to ensure that our most vulnerable members were looked after and had everything that they needed. Instantly our choir demonstrated that we were a close and caring community. Choir members delivered food, organised online shopping and dropped off masks for each other. Others checked in regularly with shielding members to combat loneliness and isolation. Like many across the world, our Whatsapp chats were booming as we all sought to reassure each other, exchange information and offer hope and comfort.
Once lockdown restrictions forced everyone to be apart, we knew it was vital to continue fostering that sense of friendship and community to stop despair and fear taking over. Online rehearsals were now ready to be launched.
The practicalities were a learning curve. We eased into using Zoom with a few members at a time, building up to complete rehearsals over a matter of weeks. Like everyone, we found online interaction to be a mixture of exhilarating, confusing and frustrating. It also became evident that online life is not a level playing field. Many of our members had difficulty connecting to Zoom because of data issues, or the lack of a compatible phone or strong connection. Others preferred to keep their cameras off to ensure privacy. Yet we were also able to welcome many new members now that distance was no object.
“I have fun times with such a lovely and supportive community. Actually it is the only event where I can interact and I am always looking forward to it during the lockdown.” Aref, new choir member
The benefits of weekly online rehearsals are undeniable, providing a sense of togetherness and an emotional and practical lifeline to many. Once we gained confidence in our online repertoire we also branched out into online concerts in association with London Contemporary Voices choir, featuring Imogen Heap, Felix from Basement Jaxx , Ian Shaw and Emily Watson.
A few months on from our first online rehearsal, we’re ready to invite everyone to come and rehearse with us and learn what goes on behind the scenes. Our Open Rehearsal for Refugee Week is on the 17th June at 7pm, and no singing experience is necessary!
Just bring your enthusiasm and your hope for the future. We’re ready to welcome you on the next stage of our journey.
To book into our free Refugee Week Open Rehearsal click here:
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