MD Conducting
Doing it differently - distance learning

As we come to terms with the realities of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and all the health advice, maybe some of our insights into distance learning may be helpful.

For the last 5 years, the European Queer Choir (EQC) has explored different ways to learn and rehearse. We are recruiting singers for our European Queer Gala Choir to sing at Gala Festival so good distance learning is essential.

Our singers live in different European Cities and come together 2 or 3 times a year to sing in person.

It’s been challenging for us to find new ways to support singers to learn on their own and in smaller groups. Here are some of our insights, if you want to add your own please do feel free to comment.

We all learn in our own way with different levels of music reading skills. So we need to produce a range of learning tools that are varied, accessible and accurate, that remain current and are regularly reviewed.

They include:

● a pdf of the score with notes from the Musical Director about each piece, outlining their vision of the piece.  

● a Sibelius score that can be used with a free reading and hearing programme like Score.

● a downloadable midi file of electronic notes for each voice parts in various combinations, individually in voice parts, with accompaniment, other voice parts muted, with all parts and accompaniment equally.

● Recorded downloadable sung voice parts in various combinations individually in voice parts, with accompaniment, other voice parts muted, with all parts and accompaniment equally or just the accompaniment usually piano.

● Video recording of the Musical Director introducing the piece and conducting the piece with accompaniment, indicating tempo and emphasis

● Movement, if your choir includes movement when they sing, then a video recording of each voice parts movement.

After face to face rehearsals, all resources need to be updated to reflect any changes, notes are very helpful, but editing the actual learning tools is the most effective way to support accuracy. Always use the experience of face to face rehearse time to record live sessions, audio and video for each song.

The music team (musical director, accompanist and music captains/section musical leads) need to take a proactive attitude to distance learning to motivate a “little and often” approach to learning. Sharing learning plans, motivational messages and regular updates, so all singers feel included and connected.

Organising Skype / Hang-Outs – using live communications have their own challenges allowing only one person to talk/sing in turn. Using these platforms takes time to become familiar with how they work, and all users need to be disciplined to contribute in a measured constructive way, allowing time/space for people to respond and contribute. Using headsets or your mobile phone headphones cuts down on background noise, speakers often cause feedback, and it’s often easier on desktops and laptops rather than on mobile phones and tablets. If you are not talking, then please mute the microphone on your device. Think about your environment to reduce background noise and possible interference. It gets better with practice so persevere, and you do all get better.

You can also consider online rehearsal sessions with:

● singers and your music team

● singers in the same voice parts or complimentary voice parts

● all participants on mute except the music leader

Music team members can conduct rehearsals only sharing their own video and sound and all viewers/listeners on mute. You could pause from time to time to deal with music questions. It is important to be precise about bar numbers.

EQC conducts all their group, and team business meets online, and this year we managed our Annual Meeting and elections online. Sessions are best planned out with an overview sent out in advance, reminding users to be respectful and polite.  

Stay connected with your singers using platforms to setup talking about the music, challenges, issues and problems. Motivate two-way dialogues, listening to singers, and in turn, music team members can share, correct and instruct.

If singers are self-isolating or recovering from a virus infection, your choir connections can be an important channel for support to combat, loneliness and fear. So people do not feel they are alone, and we can all understand how best to look after each other. You can also use your networks to be a source of asking for help, possibly online or mobile calls and physical support with shopping and medications. Support without physical contact.

In addition to online learning, we organise localised face to face sessions for people who live near each other with others joining by Skype. But this may not be an option during times of reduced meet-ups and physical contact.

Although we are growing our singing numbers, we appreciate that we are a smallish group and not meeting up face to face for weekly rehearsals means we have to find ways to compensate for the lack of personal and social contact. We try to deal with this in a positive and constructive way.

Our face to face rehearsals are over a weekend with two full two days together and with lots of opportunities to talk, eat, socialise, encouraging hosted accommodation. We have even shared an entire large holiday home.

We have learned to do what we want differently, tell us how you are doing that?

Martin Brophy
European Queer Choir

Martin is a founder member of EQC, serves on the board of Legato European Choirs, the music charity Fruitvox and is a former President of Gala Choruses, singing with London Gay Men’s Chorus for over 22 years and a founding Director with Integra Planner, the comprehensive event planning company.

Posted 15 March 2020

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