Singing Through a Pandemic
I conducted an Interview with Professor Gene Marie Callahan who is one of the choir instructors at Siena College. I want to know what it has been like teaching a choir during the pandemic and the difficulties she faced.
B: How has the effect of a community in choir disappeared since the pandemic?
GM: We are physically apart from each other, and that makes it very difficult to hear who is next to you when that person is 12 feet away. It’s not the usual way of learning to sing with each other.
B: Because of all the changes that have been made in the choir, do you think it was more difficult to plan the recordings that we did rather than the actual concerts?
GM: Yes. It is very difficult to do a recording because you can’t blend, it’s really hard it’s like a different thing. Most of us want to hear the other parts when we’re singing and when you record for our purposes we had individual microphones so we never got to that point where we were able to hear each other enough to say that we were blending. Each voice goes into the recording and gets mixed by someone who does mixing in terms of volume and not in terms of “well who needs to be predominant here” “who needs to be less here.” So it’s an artificial blend.
B: Has your view of choir changed because of the pandemic?
GM: I have a lot more respect for people who will take the plunge and take the time to be willing to put themselves into what could be harm’s way by singing with each other. Singing as you know, is one of the most dangerous things that you can do during a pandemic because of the droplets. Yes, we’ve all been masked but still, things escape. You’ve all seen my glasses fog up and if you wear glasses, you’ve had that happen to yourself, it’s also escaping particles. So the singers who are willing to sing in the midst of all that want to sing or else they wouldn’t bother. So I have much more respect for that kind of dedication than I would have had before the pandemic. I don’t think anyone took the decision to be in choir lightly because of Covid.
B: Has this been a really hard year because of the pandemic?
GM: Yes, because there are so many things I’d like to work on that you can’t do behind a mask. There’s no diction, forget that, it’s pointless. Some of the demonstrations that I would be able to do I can’t do because of the mask and planning repertoire. Chorus is a mutable group, we never know from semester to semester who is going to be in the choir. We don’t know if we are going to have mixed SATB or are we going to have just SSA or are we going to have one tenor and the rest SA. We never know what the combinations are going to be, so planning for the choir is always a little difficult in the first place. But during the pandemic, it becomes even harder because of goal setting. You have one thing to do and as you’ve noticed there are several students who haven’t bothered to show up since we did our recording and that is hard on the rest of the singers and it’s hard on me not to become negative in that regard. The term, “you’re preaching to the chorus” applies here because the ones who come are wonderful and we’re getting something done even after the recording. There have been some complaints about the lack of difficulty in some of the pieces in the beginning but when you factored in all the things that would make it difficult to sound good for a recording it kind of evened out. Because it was much more difficult by the time we got into the theater than it was in the chapel where we have been rehearsing. You can hear a lot in the chapel, you cannot hear a lot in the theater. It’s been very hard and it’s hard for me not to have my point of view about pandemic health and mental health and all of the things that have risen up against us. It’s really hard for me to stay positive and not have my fears permeate into the group setting.
B: Despite the pandemic and everything that has happened do you think that choir has been a success?
GM: Yes, because it is one of the few things that students have been able to do on campus where they are together, the recordings are live. We have built a little community out of all of this that students who are just online don’t have because they are still isolated. So we have this wonderful blessing of being together so that was a wonderful thing to happen. We have a group identity, we’re the chorus and we survived the pandemic and that’s a great thing.