The show must go on for Haliburton’s Shout Sister Choir
By Zachary Roman
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, people everywhere are finding new ways to connect with and maintain the communities they were part of in the pre-pandemic world. For example, people are hosting parties, classes, meetings and more online – activities that can translate well to a virtual format.
Since the government enacted physical distancing protocols due to COVID-19, a dedicated group of women from Haliburton have been doing something that isn’t so easy to organize online – running their choir practices. The group, called Shout Sister, are doing this over popular video conferencing software Zoom.
“The main benefit is that the women get to get as close as they can to gathering because the singing ... for some, it’s the highlight of their week to get together and sing,” said Laurel McCauley, director of the Haliburton chapter of Shout Sister Choir. “They can see each other ... so it’s sort of the best that they could get without actually being physically close.”
There are 25 Shout Sister chapters across Ontario. The first one was established by Juno-award-nominated singer-songwriter Georgette Fry in Kingston in 2002. Shout Sister Choirs are unique in that they don’t require an audition or require you to know how to read sheet music to join. Shout Sister is a welcoming community for any and all women to sing together.
McCauley says that in these unprecedented times, the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of singing – especially with a group – are very important. It’s a sentiment shared by members of her choir as well. One of those members is Kim Quigley.
Quigley said there are concrete health benefits to singing in a group – and that there are so many more positives than just that. “In terms of now, us all being isolated from each other, having the ability to just see everyone’s face every week and chat in between songs … we’re just able to have that sense of community still, in spite of being isolated,” said Quigley. “Bringing more music into your life is never a bad thing ... It’s something to look forward to every week and sharing something with all those wonderful women and being able to sing, it’s wonderful.”
Quigley appreciates the structure that choir practices bring – she also participates in a daily online choir that streams practices from England. “Sometimes we wish we had more freedom, but you know, having no commitments at all, I don’t think it’s good for your mental well-being,” said Quigley. “I think something to get anchored on is really important, especially in these times.”
Despite the many benefits of continuing to run choir practices on Zoom, it doesn’t come without difficulties. Most of which are technical, of course.
“[Haliburton’s] internet isn’t always as high speed and as strong as other places’ might be,” said McCauley. “The difficulty on my end specifically was learning new technology. Once I learned that, I had to learn further how I needed to override some of the default settings that come automatically when you [get] a subscription to Zoom.”
Quigley said she commends McCauley for working so hard to get the online practices to where they are now. “She’s clearly really committed to making it work for all of us. I’m sure [setting everything up] was really difficult at the beginning, but we’ve got most of those bumps ironed out,” said Quigley. “Without hesitation I can say that I feel like I still have a connection to my choir and by extension to my community in general. Without this it would just be a big void.”
According to McCauley, timing in music is critical. And with the time lag of online video conferencing, that means the music for everyone in the call has to come from only McCauley’s speakers. McCauley has the master track, arranged by Fry, which contains all the vocal and backing track parts of a given song.
Everyone else in the call mutes their microphone and sings their part along to McCauley’s audio.
Because of the time lag, if everyone were unmuted it would sound like a jumbled mess. Everyone wishes they could hear each other, but for now, they have to settle for just seeing.
“You get a sense of singing together, but you’re not really, you’re singing with one other person,” said Quigley. “It helps you with your singing. That doesn’t really help with the group singing thing, you know, because you can’t hear everybody else. So that’s one of the challenging things.”
For practice purposes, choir members can download a recording of the master track, or just their specific part – for example, just the alto vocals, or just the soprano vocals – from Shout Sister’s website. “It’s very well organized, which is probably one of the reasons for the success of the organization,” said McCauley.
Because of the way the Zoom practices work, McCauley said that she isn’t in a position to direct the choir like she normally could. She said the Shout Sisters are doing this with fun as the first priority.
If you are interested in joining Shout Sister or listening to their work, you can check them out at shoutsisterchoir.ca.