The COVID pandemic hit B.C. so quickly that a choral chamber choir at Trinity Western University completed a dress rehearsal on the morning of March 13 before being told the show would not go on that evening.
“Three hours later, we were told that the concert would be cancelled,” said Chloe Thiessen, an arts student majoring in music at the university in Langley. “It was our first concert of our semester, and after that all spring concerts and recitals were cancelled.”
The cancellations came weeks before it was confirmed that dozens of chorists at a church in Mount Vernon, Wash., had been infected after a two-hour practice during which everyone sanitized and kept their distance from one another and avoided hugs and handshakes. At least two died of COVID and 45 of 60 of them were infected.
So it was curtains for group singing after that, silencing choirs such as those at TWU.
With the end of term coming up, “Everyone was reeling from the shock of it all,” said Thiessen.
But that didn’t stop Thiessen, 22, and her fellow choral composer, Colin Jamieson, 23, from devising a way for the choirs to keep singing.
The two, unbeknownst to one another, got the idea of inviting other singers to sing their compositions as a choir, but online.
Thiessen was in the process of inviting classmates to participate in her project when she realized Jamieson was sending out similar email invitations.
But it wasn’t competitive, it was collaborative. Thiessen helped Jamieson with the audio editing in exchange for his help with video editing.
Virtual choirs aren’t new, and were performed before the pandemic, but composing and performing one online was a first for the two young composers.
Thiessen recorded herself singing her part and each of the eight singers sang from their own homes and sent the audio files to Thiessen, who layered them onto the other files and edited and mixed them.
Jameson had 18 or 19 singers in his virtual choir, and had the lead singers of each part — alto, soprano, tenor, bass — record their performances and send them to the other singers. They came back to Jamieson for editing.
Most of the singers are from the Fraser Valley, but he had two each from Alberta, Washington and California.
Seventeen of the singers sent him video files of their performances, and he has the task of editing them together for the final performance. He hopes to have it completed and online before the end of the year.
“It’s just a fantastic collaborative effort,” he said.
Both are hoping their compositions will offer some solace and joy to listeners during the pandemic.
“I do want it to be heard by as many people as possible, especially those who are struggling with the epidemic, which is all of us,” said Jamieson.