Amy Delamaide talks about our recent unorthodox approach to face-to-face rehearsals. Over to Amy!
Finally the big day was here!
I had waited, and waited, and waited, for fifteen long months. What was the big day? Was it a well-rehearsed concert performance on stage at Cadogan Hall? Was it an event or gig that we were performing at for an audience? No. The big day was just … a normal Pink Singers rehearsal. But after fifteen months of sitting alone at home, on mute, singing along to a recording over Zoom, I was ready for just a regular rehearsal.
I left my flat super early – there was no way I was going to be late. I cycled to Peckham, where I found a disused car park turned into an arts venue and ran into some friends straight away as I arrived. We walked up the pink, very pink, staircase together. Of course, we had to stop for a mini-photo shoot because pink is kind of our color.
When we got to the roof there was a restaurant and an outdoor sculpture garden with people from the neighborhood enjoying the great views of London from the rooftop.
We got a quick drink at Frank’s Restaurant. I sat at a picnic table with friends who I hadn’t seen in person since March 2020. I even got to hug Paul, the chair of the choir (we’re both vaccinated). Over the fifteen months of Zoom rehearsals and choir coordinating meetings, I felt like I had gotten to know him better that before. Greeting him felt like greeting an old friend! That hug was long awaited.
Then, we walked down the car park ramps one level. It was definitely an old car park – but one that had gotten a good power-wash. It was concrete and there were pigeons flying overhead, but there was also electricity and a wavy background of board to make it a good place to present live music. Across the length of the car park, I could see a solitary table with two choir members preparing to take the register. We all brought our own pens or pencils to sign in.
Before the rehearsal started, we waited – socially-distanced from each other – but so incredibly happy to be in-person. But no more hugs – once we were in the rehearsal space, hugging was not allowed under the guidance.
Then we sat down in our seats. Since we were more than thirty people, we separated into two groups, altos and basses on one side and sopranos and tenors on the other side of the line. Ne’er the twain shall meet! We had planned for separate breaks and dismissal by section after the rehearsal to ensure proper spacing.
Each chair was spaced out from the other chairs around it by at least a meter, or more. Compared to our pre-pandemic rehearsals, it seemed like we were miles apart from each other. In our previous rehearsal spaces, we were used to being shoulder to shoulder in a small studio, so this was a big change.
Our director, Murray, was at the front on a small dais with a stool. He had a music stand for his music and other short tables and stands to hold a microphone attached to a small amplifier so those of us in the car part could hear him. He also had a microphone connected to a laptop which was running our simultaneous Zoom-casting of the rehearsal, for those who couldn’t be there in person. And there was a fish-eye camera trying to capture some video of us in the car park singing.
To help us get our jitters out and get ready to sing, Murray took us through some warmups. We started with some gentle hmms, and some zzzzs going up and down like bees, then some sharp, percussive consonant sounds like puh-kuh-tuh-kuh and kuh-puh-guh-puh. Then, I’m not sure what we were supposed to do next because a train went by on the elevated tracks and I couldn’t hear Murray. So I followed along with his facial expressions and hand gestures and just kept warming up.
What followed the warm-up was three hours of musical bliss – it was the most amazing rehearsal. The voices of my choir members wrapped around me. The deep basses resonated, the tenors were confident in every note, the sopranos rang out like clear bells. And behind me were the altos, these beautiful human beings I hadn’t sung with in over a year, sending their sweet tones around me like another long-awaited hug.
Before the rehearsal, I had thought the part that would make me really emotional was when we sang Chosen Family. This is a song about an idea that is really important in the LGBTQ community. Often, when queer people come out to their families, they get emotionally or physically cut off from their biological relatives. If that happens, you find your people in the LGBTQ community who become your substitute parents or siblings to make up for being ostracized from our bio families. This is your chosen family.
To get the timing of Chosen Family right, Murray had us turn to each other, within our own sections and across the sections. “Look in each other’s eyes,” he said. “Sing these words to them.”
I choose you, you choose me, you’re my chosen family.
And it worked! Across the distance, we used our eyes to connect and get into the same rhythm. You can’t do that over Zoom! For those of us who had felt quite isolated during the pandemic, coming together to sing about our chosen family was incredibly powerful. But that wasn’t the part that got to me the most…
The part that got me the most, as the alto section leader, was when we sang Unruly Heart together for the first time. I was in the front row of the altos, with newbie Rauwa to my right, who has just joined choir this Summer 2021 season. Behind her was Molly, who joined in Spring 2020 and had rehearsed in person just a few times before we went into lockdown. Two rows behind me was Georgina, who joined this season as well. And there were the familiar voices of Pippa, Gill, Nicki and Ben with whom I had sung in the Winter 2019 season, our last normal season before everything changed.
When we sang this popular song from the musical The Prom, the altos voices sang out with strength around me. Singing “this heart is the best part of meeeee!” I heard their gorgeous tones supporting my own voice as we sang together in the car park, some of these voices I’d never heard before. And they can SING! It sounded so beautiful. That was the moment that made me tear up a little bit.
It’s been a long, long wait. But, we’re back! We have had two in-person rehearsals and we are hoping for more. We’re looking forward to a time when we can perform again and we hope you will join us!
Amy Delamaide, Alto