Although choirs have shut down all over the world due to COVID-19 transmission risks, Richmond’s City Singers Youth Choirs has innovated a creative solution.
City Singers Youth Choirs will partner with professional musicians who call Richmond home on a remotely recorded collection of holiday songs, in a process which allows safely distanced collaboration.
Like many organization, the programming for the City Singers Youth Choirs was cancelled this year, in response to the spread of COVID-19. The nonprofit arts education organization halted all in-person programs, from rehearsals, to free concerts, to community events.
Even though they continued to serve their singers through online instruction and virtual choir projects, the future of City Singers, along with choirs around the world, looked dire.
“Almost immediately, voice professionals across the globe became aware that singing together poses a very high risk of transmission,” says executive and artistic director, Leslie Dripps. “The very fabric of what we do – sing together – came unraveled. Even now, choirs everywhere don’t know how they’ll survive.”
But Dripps wasn’t down for long, thanks to creative thinking and teamwork. Together with City Singers director of voice pedagogy Margaret Woods – also a professional soprano on voice faculty for VCU and the University of Richmond – Dripps developed plans for their next season, plans characterized by the innovation and flexibility needed during a pandemic.
Dripps and Woods view this time of uncertainty as a time of opportunity. Combining the most important values of their organization, high quality music making and joyful appreciation of diversity, City Singers Youth Choirs will produce a professional album partnering the choir with a variety of musicians who live and work in the Richmond region.
Dripps says research has shown that singing in groups and in-person is not responsible from a health standpoint, “so we needed to create a project which checked a variety of boxes: something that was artistically strong, provided unique instructional value to our singers, expressed appreciation for the beautiful diversity in Richmond, and could be executed as remotely as needed,” says Dripps.
Collaborators will include singer Frankie James, string quartet Rosette, soprano Sarah Walston, members of No BS Brass Band, jazz bandleader Jason Jenkins, guitarist Andrew McEvoy and others in a collection of winter and holiday songs featuring the voices of City Singers Youth Choirs.
City Singers has a history of embracing the full variety of music and role models: from African-American conductors to Swedish folk fiddlers, and Dripps says this project will further this concept by including R&B, jazz, folk, and pop musicians from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures.
For Dripps and everyone in the City Singers organization, trying to manage the stress that comes with not being able to gather and sing has provided an opportunity. “The best part is that the very circumstances which shut down choirs in March have made it possible for anyone with a voice and an Internet connection to be a part of this project,” says Dripps. “Any kid who loves to sing, anywhere, can join us this September.”
To learn more about the virtual winter album project or to support this effort, visit citysingerschoir.org.