What to do about rehearsals

in the time of COVID-19?

March 12, 2020

Dear Young Musicians Chorus community,

 

In the interest of flattening the curve, we will be postponing rehearsals. What this means is that there will be no rehearsal tomorrow and for at least the two weeks that follow. Please add three weeks of rehearsals to your calendar: May 23May 30, and June 6 (rehearsal and concert). Also pencil in June 13, in case we need to miss an additional one or more rehearsals. I appreciate that many of you made arrangements for a May 16 concert. Thank you for your flexibility in this unusual time, so that we may both protect our community and hopefully still give our kids the wonderful music experience they deserve.

 

We’ll resume rehearsals April 4 at the earliest. Our Spring Break was scheduled for April 11 to match up with Spring Break in the schools, but many of them are changing their dates to have Spring Break be earlier. Depending on families’ updated schedules and the evolution of this outbreak, we may follow suit or, if need be, delay further. Thank you for your patience as the schedule adjusts to the reality on the ground.

 

In the meantime, I’ll be emailing recordings for the kids to sing with!

 

Stay healthy, everybody.

 

-Betsy

March 10, 2020

We may yet need to cancel this Saturday's rehearsal, and will very likely have to cancel in a week or two as the virus becomes more wide-spread. That said, our current thinking is this:

If your children attend school on Friday -- a much higher-risk activity than chorus -- then let's still have rehearsal on Saturday. 

We’ll take a 3-pronged approach:

  • We’ll be running a ‘hands-free’ rehearsal, where no one need touch anything.

  • We’ll be disinfecting high-contact surfaces anyway.

  • We’ll spread our choristers out, even though that particular precaution is only needed if someone is sneezing or coughing – something that I expect will not happen, as parents are being especially careful right now about keeping sick kids home.

More specifically, here are precautions we'll be taking:

  • Doorknobs, railings, pew tops, and any other high-contact surfaces will be wiped down with 91% isopropyl alcohol.

  • All kids will be asked to wash hands upon arrival. 

  • St. Alban's is disinfecting the bathrooms, Parish Hall (where A Musicum meets), doorknobs, and railings daily.

  • We'll have the doors blocked ajar such that people can enter by opening with their foot or elbow, rather than hands.

  • Our situation is somewhat unique in that we will be the first ones at St. Alban’s on Saturday – about 12 hours after the most-recent use of the space – so our exposure is pretty much just to ourselves. As gatherings go, this is a best-case scenario.

  • Purell or isopropyl alcohol will be available (*gasp!* Like gold, nowadays!) for folks to use if they accidentally touch something or someone.

Lastly, if anyone in your family has flu-like symptoms, please keep your child home. 

The number of infected folk is almost certainly much, much higher than confirmed, but is hopefully still quite low, and not-yet amoung our choristers. That said, as the numbers climb, we will likely have to postpone some of our future rehearsals.

Please mark your calendars to tentatively include rehearsals and/or performance for May 23, May 30, and June 6, as I have reserved those days for us in the rehearsal space if need be.

Thank you everybody. Stay healthy!

-Betsy 

March 26, 2020

Dear Young Musicians Chorus community,

As you've no-doubt heard, school closures in the Bay Area have been extended to May 1. I don't know what this means for the rest of our semester, but will assess as we get closer to that date (or whatever the school reopening date is at that point).

I miss you all! Looking forward to singing together again.

Warmly,

-Betsy

April 7, 2020

Dear families of Young Musicians Chorus,

 

It’s looking like schools will be closed for the year. I’m not sure, yet, what that means for YMC, but for certain we won’t be holding any more in-person sessions this semester.

 

I consider us to have only done five rehearsals. Other groups are keeping the full tuition; their survival depends on it. I don’t feel right doing that, so I propose these three options:

 

Option 1)   YMC can credit this semester’s prorated tuition toward next semester.
Option 2)   If you need us to, YMC can reimburse the prorated portion of the tuition.
Option 3)   You can let us keep the remainder of the tuition. This option would certainly be appreciated! YMC has already incurred the full semester’s expenses. It being our first season, we felt pretty lucky to break even but now, like so many other arts organizations, we are looking at a different situation.


The much more important question is: Now what? How do we maintain our community and keep the music at least simmering for our kids?

 

Some choral organizations have been attempting to hold ‘rehearsals’ online. I’ve been developing online teaching skills with my San Francisco Boys Chorus group. What I’ve learned is that there are two fundamental problems with online (eg Zoom) rehearsals: 1) Lag time makes singing together impossible and 2) Zoom-conferencing is limited to one voice at a time. Under such circumstances, real-time ensemble work isn’t possible. The experience of one’s voice being part of a much bigger whole isn’t something we can do. The closest we can come – what all the ensembles are doing (including YWCP, PEBCC, SF Opera, and even instrumental ensembles like YPSO and Crowden’s chamber music program) – is either ‘make music’ on mute together, or listen to one student at a time.

 

That said, my students were really happy to see each other, eager to participate in our warm-ups and other routines. They visibly brightened. It could be the result of something as simple as the breathing exercises that we do at the beginning or maybe it was that they got to sing even if it was, in effect, solo, or maybe it was a social thing. Whatever it was, parents wrote to say how much the boys enjoyed meeting, despite the online venue.

 

My conclusion: Online rehearsals are a poor substitute for the real thing. But they’re better than no rehearsal at all.

 

One thing I have been doing is digitally assembling solo recordings of my SFBC boys. I’m planning on something similar with Collegium. For students to make solo recordings, they have to solidify their parts at home by practicing with learning recordings – that requires a kind of commitment that is challenging under even the best of circumstances. But if there is interest, we could try something like this with A and B Musica. Or we could keep our singing lower-key, but still use our voices.

 

Another thing that has actually been effective in my online teaching has been music theory, particularly sight reading. I have Kodály certification in music pedagogy, and have taught music theory for 22 years. So, though it lacks the transcendent joy that comes with bringing voices together, this is certainly something we can do with our kids that keeps them learning, singing, deep breathing, and growing as musicians.

 

Please rest assured that, one way or another, YMC will be here for your kids when things open up again. In the meantime, I’m amenable to the idea of getting together online, which I wouldn’t consider true rehearsal but, rather, just a way to keep our singers in the mental space of being musicians. Please let me know if your child would be interested in meeting at our usual time online, as well as any other thoughts, and I’ll get back to all of you with a plan.

 

In solidarity,

 

-Betsy
 

May 21, 2020

Dear YMC families,

 

Our kids have been denied so many of their culminations: graduations, plays, art shows, championships… concerts! What a curveball.

 

But they are also remarkably resilient. Despite the circumstances, our young musicians intend to have their end-of-semester performance. And if they’re willing to make it happen, I’m determined to.

 

I think we can put together a truly special concert that allows us to share what they’ve accomplished -- with you, with their grandparents, and with their friends. I’m thinking end of June or so, with rehearsals continuing until then.

 

Details TBD. If anyone has know-how on hosting large-scale one-time web events (Webinar? Larger Zoom subscription for just one month? Something else?), please do get in touch with me.

 

Collegium Musicum and A Musicum have already been doing draft video recordings. B Musicum will start next week. Please be sure to read the Big, Fat List of Recording Notes before rolling your video.

 

Pandemic be d*mned, let’s make some music!

 

Thank you, as always, for your support of our choirs and these amazing kids.

 

-Betsy

April 24, 2021

Dear YMC families,

Some of you are wondering about rehearsals in the fall. Me, too!

The current plan is to go back to rehearsing in person. But of course, this depends on the situation on the ground. I fully expect the eldest group to be able to meet together. A Musicum is tricky -- I may take cues from what the schools are doing. There are singers' masks that SF Opera uses that I would be willing to invest in, if needed, and if the manufacturer can make them for smaller faces. Worst case, A Musicum will continue to meet online. Trickier still is B Musicum, which may have some kids who are vaccinated and some who are still too young. Maybe some or all will have masks. Maybe we'll have some in person and the others with us remotely using JackTrip (a software I've been using -- with mixed success -- at SFBC). 

Obviously things are quite up in the air. What I can tell you is that our start date, at the earliest, will be September 4th. But if there's some kind of kid vaccine rollout that makes a later start date the better option, that's what we'll do.

Thank you so much for your patience and, as always, for sharing your amazing kids with us.

Kind regards,

-Betsy

July 19, 2021

 

Dear Young Musicians Chorus,

Let us sing – in person!! St. Alban’s has given us the ok to use their space. For A Musicum, which meets upstairs, there are windows fully lining both sides that we can have open for ventilation. For B Musicum and Collegium Musicum in the sanctuary, we’ll open doors on three sides. There's ample room to social distance.

Rehearsals start September 11! Calendar details are on the website.

Things in the Bay Area are looking pretty good. But should the situation deteriorate, I will both offer prorated deferrals/refunds and offer to continue online (and the one won’t be contingent upon the other). The CDC has given us the ok to sing in person. Alameda County guidelines are a little more strict in that they require masks for all organized youth gatherings. My plan is to get us singers’ masks so that it’s easier to breathe, open our mouths, and sing with full protection but with less restriction. If you think that you would like to be here in the fall, please let me know by the end of this week (registering is best, but email is also fine), and I’ll have a better idea of how many masks to get. We’ll look like a bunch of ducks, but we’ll be comfortable, which is of course coolness epitomized. The masks are only about $10 for kids but are more like $23 for full-size faces (sizing at the bottom of their webpage). I’ll cover this on my first order, but would welcome contributions toward your masks via paypal here: info@ymchorus.org. Honestly, I’m planning on using this mask in any public situation that lasts more than a couple of hours, even outside of chorus, simply to be able to breathe better.

Please do recruit from among your friends! Our ONLY advertisement right now is word of mouth. The continued success of this community endeavor depends on us reaching out to others. Thank you!

 

It is astonishing what you’ve been able to accomplish these last three semesters. Full concerts – good ones – with music expressing what we were going through: Bohemian Rhapsody, Shut De Do, Away From the Roll of the Sea, Gift to Sing, The Storm Is Passing Over, Blowin’ in the Wind, Warrior, Sailors Prayer, Since You’re Not Here, Light of a Clear Blue Morning, and the critically acclaimed Madárdal (Bartók), and also songs that were just beautiful in their own right by Pergolesi, Holst, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Leyontovyich, Gjeilo, and so many others… It’s remarkable. As always, just like pre-pandemic, you well and truly demonstrated just what amazing a group of young musicians you are. I am so grateful for your continued participation, even in the face of such trying circumstances. Now it is time – finally! – to celebrate being through the worst of this. Let us joyously raise our voices – together! – in song. I can’t wait!

With more gratitude and excitement than I can possibly convey,

-Betsy