Melodia Voices Reach for the Stars

By Jenny Clarke, Executive Director, Melodia

As I read a recent article in Ms. Magazine, Together in Song: Women’s and LGBT Choruses Safely Thrive Amidst the Pandemic, in which Melodia was featured, I was reminded of Melodia’s journey during the past 18 months as Cynthia Powell, Melodia’s Artistic Director, and I, worked to keep Melodia alive and the music flowing.

In the very early days of the pandemic in March 2020, Melodia’s 28 singers were preparing for a concert as planned in less than 6 weeks. When reality of the seriousness of the pandemic set in, it was decided to cease rehearsals immediately and cancel the scheduled performances. Days later, New York City was completely shut down, with mandates in place that prevented groups from gathering. The churches where we rehearsed and performed closed their doors, ordered by the City and State authorities. Everyone was required to stay at home. People stopped going to work – many left town – the streets were deserted. Ambulance sirens could be heard non-stop as infection rates and deaths soared.

When life as we knew it stopped with staggering speed, Cynthia and I knew we must keep the group together and keep singing. How we would do that was not immediately clear but we had music, a community of singers and the internet so that’s where we started.

We soon discovered that singing together in “real time” on the internet is not an option because of limitations of programs such as Zoom due to latency (delay) issues. After a few weeks of experimenting, Cynthia and collaborative pianist Taisiya Pushkar, developed a basic formula that worked. During a one-hour session, we would do an extensive physical and vocal warm-up (on mute), work on some vocal technique activities, sometimes with guests, and work on music, often in breakout rooms. The sessions were packed with music and also provided an opportunity to check in and support each other.

We reached out to as many previous Melodia singers as we could get hold of and welcomed singers from as far away as Indonesia. One singer who went on vacation to the Caribbean before the pandemic was trapped there for many months and “tuned in” to our sessions every week. Singers who had moved to other parts of the U.S. or had small children and couldn’t commit to a usually rigorous rehearsal schedule, joined us. Our network of singers sprung to life as we entered a new musical phase.

Some choirs quickly produced compelling virtual choir videos, where singers record their voices and images and they are woven together electronically. Inspired by their effectiveness, we created our first virtual choir video in May 2020, Gaelic Blessing by John Rutter, with piano. The video was shared with an online community of more than 4,500 viewers. It was also utilized for two community events and a Zoom theater production about domestic violence.

Taisiya Pushkar, and string quartet record John Rutter, Gaelic Blessing

As spring moved to summer and summer to fall, gathering was still restricted and our venues remained firmly closed. Once again, the group convened on Zoom and continued weekly activity. A more ambitious virtual choir piece was planned, with string quartet and piano accompaniment. A recording session with masked players provided the instrumental track. The Rose, by Ola Gjeilo, was presented during a virtual concert, with archive videos from past seasons, solo performances, and spoken word. People from all over the country attended, many donating to Melodia. The recording of The Rose has received almost 10,000 views on Facebook and YouTube to date.

Fall blended into spring 2021 and still no rehearsals or performances were possible although COVID vaccinations started to become available. We continued to meet every week via Zoom and our community morphed and grew. This time, we prepared three virtual choir videos with enhanced video elements, photos and footage contributed by the group: Carly Simon’s Let the River Run, I Dream a World by André J. Thomas, and Days of Beauty by Ola Gjeilo. The video and audio elements were masterfully created and engineered by Melodia members Judy Minkoff, Julia Pugachevsky and Stephanie Larriere. The videos were presented in two virtual concerts, To Dream a World, in May 2021. These three final videos have received more than 12,000 views.

In June, we had the opportunity to perform live outside in a project presented by Creative Time. We prepared a program on Zoom to perform live on the Red Stage, in a busy intersection at Astor Place, NYC. A spirited performance by Melodia, accompanied by an all female Taiko drumming group, and some audience participation, brought Astor Place to life.

Melodia on the Red Stage, Astor Place, NYC, June 16, 2021

Summer 2021 came along with lower COVID numbers and an ease of restrictions. Plans were made to start meeting as a group in the fall, with a combination of in-person, social-distanced rehearsals and some Zoom rehearsals. New singers joined for the in-person season as we regrouped and started to rehearse. Since September, our singers have met, wearing special singing masks, to rehearse our Sun, Moon and Stars concert on November 21, 2021 – the program originally planned for May 2020.

Some Melodia singers masked, in rehearsal fall 2021

During rehearsals, singers have been spread out in a large church space, enjoying hearing each other’s voices and relishing the opportunity to sing together again. All are vaccinated and will be tested before the concert.

With our concert date approaching, we hope an audience will join us to share our celebration of the universe and the opportunity to bring beautiful music to the world in-person for the first time in two years. Once again, Melodia’s voices will soar towards the sun, moon and stars.

Sun, Moon and Stars
Sunday, November 21, 2021 at 4PM
Holy Apostles
296 Ninth Avenue @ 28th Street, NYC
Subways C & E to 28th St.

Tickets & information: https://melodiawomenschoirnyc.org/melodia-womens-choir-in-concert/

Sun, Moon and Stars will be broadcast via YouTube on Saturday, December 18 at 7PM Eastern (Free).

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