The coronavirus pandemic isn't stopping ISing Choir from practicing virtually for its next in-person performance — whenever that will be.
The Beaverton choir usually holds public concerts and performances in the area to educate musicians and the public in the musical arts. Due to COVID-19, no large gatherings are permitted, and singing in groups is heavily discouraged by health officials.
Despite the struggles, the choir has used virtual tools since last spring to keep practicing. Stephen Galván, ISing's artistic director, said it is a priority for the group to keep older singers safe during the pandemic.
"We did not want to expose our choir to this virus in any form," said Galván. "We have multi-generational singers, and I don't know the age of our oldest, but it's way over 65."
At first, the choir tried Zoom to practice. Later, it went a different route and started using a program called My Choral Coach. The program allows Galván to upload sheet music, and then the singer receives an assignment.
The singers are then able to rehearse the music with just their part or with the whole choir.
The choir member then goes in and works on their part in any speed by themselves or with choir support behind them.
The program also gives singers a grade of up to five stars for their performance.
"It assesses how the singer is doing based on rhythm and pitch," Galván explained.
With a chuckle, he described the process as "brutal," because the program sometimes analyzes a breath as a pause and can knock a person down for rhythm.
"Getting 100% is not possible, even for the pros," he said. "That has been hard for our choir members to adjust to and understand because of a lot of them are perfectionists and don't want to have anything less than five stars."
Thankfully, the software isn't their only judge. Galván said he reviews each part and provides singers with non-computerized feedback as well.
Choir members are also working on memorizing musical pieces.
Normally, ISing has 80 singers in the choir, but Galván says it's down to about 40 singers due to the virus. He added that not everyone wants to be on the computer all day long, or some may struggle with technology at home.
The singers will not be penalized for not participating during the pandemic.
As for connecting while staying remote, Galván says it's a challenge.
"We're not able to sync together, and we're not able to talk to each other or go to the pub afterwards," he said. "It's all part of our choir family."
The choir has discovered masks especially made for singers that allow them to sing without spreading any germs.
Galván describes the masks as "challenging."
"You tend to hyperventilate," he explained. The masks can make singers feel like they're not getting enough air.
Choir members usually use the masks while distanced, and they use microphones when using the masks. While they're made for safety, with the increase in COVID-19 cases in Oregon, ISing is not meeting in person and using the masks until cases drop.
Despite solving its practice issues, ISing is still trying to tackle how to raise funds during this time. The choir is reaching out to the community to help meet their $6,000 goal for this year.
Galván said the choir is well on its way to meeting the goal, but it would be a great help if everyone contributed considering there is no paid staff on the choir. The funds would cover costs for items such as ISing's website and a lease on a photocopier.
As for future performances, Galván says the choir will be ready to go once the pandemic is over.
"We're going to allow about six weeks of rehearsal time … and we feel we could it even the week after," he said.
ISing's next concert may not have a date yet, but funds from the event will go towards HomePlate Youth Services in Beaverton. That nonprofit organization helps support young people experiencing homelessness or housing instability.
For more information or to donate, visit isingchoir.org .
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