Joy interrupted

It’s hard to beat the pure joy of making music with others, whether singing or playing an instrument. Listening to the other musicians, shaping a phrase, breathing together, controlling dynamics, placing your pitch just so in that harmonious chord — simply a glorious experience.

My long life has been blessed with such opportunities too many and varied to count. It must have begun when I sang alto in a children’s choir at church. and I have sung in church choirs ever since. That alto range is long gone. So is the youthful tenor, and now old age is starting to shrink my lower bass range. Playing trombone in my own dance band and school orchestras and bands dominated my teen years. Touring military bases and hospitals in the Baltimore-Washington-northern Virginia area with a USO troupe are a pleasant but distant memory.

Private voice lessons with a retired conservatory professor taught me a lot about technique. So did singing barbershop — 19 years in a quartet, coupled with numerous regional and international competitions with a high-quality chorus.

These days, I find my joy in larger groups — a 100-voice community chorus, church choir, and a 12-voice a cappella chamber ensemble. Singing vocals with a 17-piece swing band provides its own particular pleasure.

But the coronavirus pandemic has slammed the brakes on singing with others. How does one do this behind face masks and shields while maintaining a safe distance from other singers? Choral groups, from small ensembles to huge choruses, now struggle to find ways to continue singing together.

Computer and smart phone-assisted efforts now dominate this world. Today’s choral singer needs to come equipped with a good phone and home computer, both loaded with the proper apps. One also needs a space with a solid-color blank wall in one’s home, for recording oneself.

Some groups are managing to record a few singers together in the same room, able to listen to one another and see the conductor. But that’s a rare luxury. One must also record oneself singing at home, while listening on headphones to a recording.

That my own efforts to manage this juggling act have consistently ended in embarrassing failures prompts me to decide not to attempt this further. This is a tough decision. Singing with others nourishes my life so richly, I can’t imagine not doing it.

For now, I will hope that the Covid-19 period eventually will decline to the point that we once more can make music together without depending on our phones and computers.

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