2020 was not the year any of us were expecting or wishing for but I’d like to take this opportunity to focus on the positives. I’m not ignoring the negatives, the struggles and the strains that people have had to face – it’s been an awful year for so many – but my ethos in all of my choirs is to create and maintain harmony, to celebrate the good and feel proud about our success and so I will continue with this mind.
January & February
Our community choir, the West Bridgford Liberty Singers started they year with a MASSIVE song clear out! We kept just a handful of classics and started loads of new material. For this reason, we planned no gigs until after Easter and had some great concerts lined up including a collaboration with the Bestwood Male Voice Choir as well as our regular gigs at Portello Lounge and the West Bridgford Prom in the Park. We continued to sing at Lutterell Hall on alternate Mondays.
Hillarys continued their workplace singing every fortnight after the success of the Christmas Singing Project at the end of 2019.
The Liberty Chorus became a regular feature meeting once a month at Abi’s hair salon Beehive Hair Design in West Bridgford working on songs in a workshop style (starting and finishing songs in one session) The Magnificent Seven continued to sing on alternate Wednesday afternoons in my house to chat and drink tea.
And then everything changed for our singing communities.
March 16th was our final in-person rehearsal for the WBLS. We didn’t know how long we’d need to pause for at this time. We rebranded as ‘The Online Liberty SIngers’ and moved on to Facebook live on Monday 23rd March to attempt to keep our spirits up and keep singing together. Luckily, I’d been recording rehearsals for months so we had the option to sing along to recordings of ourselves which helped us feel together. I was humbled and incredibly grateful that over 100 people signed up.
Rehearsing on Facebook live was weird. I couldn’t see or hear anyone! I knew they were there because of the comments and the number at the top of the screen but I really was singing along and conducting to myself in the play room each week. I had to remember that I was presented in mirror image and had to conduct backwards which was again, weird, but I got used to it. I used to imagine the singers right there in front of me which helped and the comments they made both during rehearsal and afterwards was a great boost. Being able to leave the Facebook live videos in the membership group worked well as people could catch up later of they wanted to.
The Liberty Chorus moved over to zoom to continue rehearsing in the usual workshop format. Hillarys were unable to continue their workplace singing and the Magnificent Seven were unable to meet at my home.
When the schools closed, I started ‘The Little Liberty Singers’ and got children singing online via Facebook live for free for the first 9 weeks of lockdown, every weekday. I was able to brush up my primary school music lessons and deliver them to children everywhere. It was offered as a chance to give parents home schooling a break as I know so many of them still had to work themselves. We created a lovely community! One boy attended every single session!! It was great to connect to some children back at the school I used to teach in down in Kent.
It was evident that we were going to be online for longer than first anticipated. Using the recordings to sing along to had worked well for a time but the same ‘mistakes’ were there and I felt that we weren’t making and progress as a choir. And so the virtual recording projects were born.
We started with a song we knew and loved. One we’d been singing for ages and sang well. I’d arranged ’Sweet Disposition’ into a 6 part piece and so we kept with those sections. Using the audio files of the individual parts which I’d recorded previously at Ringstead Studios with Rich, everyone sang along listening to those on one headphone, whilst recording their individual part into their phones.
And so it was time for me to get mixing. In a previous life, I was a video editor. I worked on commercials for TV between the ages of 21-32 – this stood me in good stead for mixing. Using Ableton Live, I created a project for each colour and balanced their sounds until the perfect mix was formed. Rich had a video recording of the choir performing ‘Sweet disposition’ at Portello Lounge and so I stuck the two together using Final Cut Pro and hosted it on you tube. And it worked!!!!
Moving forwards from this and to keep the singers more in time, our next song ‘Human’ by the Killers was slightly more sophisticated. I created you tube videos of myself conducting for singers to follow and yes, it worked. We were back making progress! ‘Chocolate’ and what became our favourite “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ were also recorded at this time. For GYBR, I created a photo video of our singers first at our gigs and rehearsals when we were face to face and then asked them to provide photos of themselves singing at home. It was a poignant little project and one which I think tugged at all of our heart strings.
We had ‘Prom in your garden’ instead of proms in the park as a gig, we had a “Porthouse Lounge’ gig instead of Portello Lounge gig. We tried as hard as we could to keep our community alive.
I usually take August off and give myself and singers a break – but this was no ordinary year. I decided to run a summer project of 4 songs in 4 weeks for my Online Liberty Singers and invited everyone and anyone to join us. We ended up recording ‘Under the Boardwalk’ as our project and many of the summer singers stayed on.
I launched a summer school for the Little liberty SIngers as a paid project – £20 per household for a week of lessons and a recording at the end – if the adults could manage the recording, then surely the children could!? And they did! It was so cute!!!
The main Online Liberty SIngers group numbers stayed roughly the same – some people left and others joined. For some, singing online simply wasn’t the same and for others it was the best we had. I took the decision to move the big choir over to zoom on Monday 12th October. Changing things is always stressful for me – and I’d taken this opportunity to put up my prices (long, long overdue) but people embraced it! They came along, they carried on and it was lovely to see their faces even though I still was unable to hear them. If any of you have tried group singing on zoom, you’ll understand why they had to remain on mute.
I really pushed the Online singers – the recordings got a little more tricky with The Carpenters ‘We’ve only just begun’ being recorded in September. Re-creating the harmonies pushed me to the limits of my musical capabilities but as usual, the singers rose to the challenge. The accompanying video saw singers’ wedding photos in a montage (the original song had been heard by Richard Carpenter on TV advertising a bank talking about a young couple starting out in their married life).
In September, with the help of a very good friend, Jen Stanbrook, I launched a new initiative called The Liberty Vocal Coaching Programme. This was a short 3 month course on zoom designed to improve people’s vocal confidence. The programme successfully ran with 12 ladies who shared singing techniques and even sang solo to each other which was apparently the very worst bit! The feedback about how they felt about their singing was amazing and I have another group planned for January.
In October, I ran two mini projects to get a couple of songs recorded with a smaller number. I’ve always been gutted that Womack and Womack’s ‘Teardrops’ has failed with not just one but two choirs! So I found a brave set of people to take it on and another smaller group of around 30 singers recorded my arrangement of ‘Just Like Heaven’.
I think the worst part for me was that at the very end of October, I tested positive myself for Covid 19 which I had caught from my little boy. As a family we were isolated for a month and personally, I seemed to come off the worst. I had to cancel a choir rehearsal which I have NEVER done. The support from my singers was humbling. Everyone sending messages of goodwill, love and support. It took three weeks for me to feel back up to normal whilst homeschooling and continuing back to choir after just a week off.
We came back fighting! In November the Online Liberty Singers recorded ‘One day like this’ and ‘Read my mind’ back to back – Both were amazing. At around this time, The Liberty Chorus rebranded as ‘The Liberty Belles’ and were embarking on a video singing project which would take part in a virtual choir show run by Matt Finch.
Whilst recuperating from my illness I had time to think and plan. My workplace singing clients had all but dried up leaving me with some time on my hands as Christmas approached. I offered to do a charity gig for Footprints with the choir, I offered a singing project for the children at my son’s infant school as a fundraiser for the PTA and I got in touch with Alison Pittard at the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine to run 4 free sessions for ICU workers across the UK. Giving something back to people who needed a positive outlet in their lives was important to me and over 100 people signed up. My friend and fellow singer Jackie Shears re-wrote ‘Every breath you take’ and we secured the rights to record it and released it as a single.
It was great to work once again with Rich Williams as he created the whole backing track for the song playing all of the instruments and mastering it to perfection. I ended up with 223 vocal parts in 4-6 part harmony to mix down which created something I think the singers were quite surprised with. It was truly beautiful.
I think the most amazing thing I took from his project was that with the right team around you, anything is possible. And that the positive effects of singing together for a group of over 100 people who mostly didn’t know each other created a brilliant supportive community. The ICU Liberty SIngers are planning to continue into 2021 which is brilliant and I’m so pleased. For a couple of weeks my working day was filled with TV and radio interviews as the news spread of our project. Many singers spoke about their experiences and how the singing had brought them all together and made a difference to their lives and their mental health. I can’t wait to meet them all one day.
I managed to squeeze in some Christmas singing for NHS Supply Chain and CCM who are a local printing firm. I also took on a 3 session project with the British Association of Dermatologists which started in December and will run through January and February.
The Online Liberty Singers saw the year end by recording ‘O Holy Night’ which was a massive departure for us (we never go near carols usually – but ever there was a year to be different, it was this year.) The Liberty Belles created a video which featured in the Virtual Christmas Choir Show – learning ‘Carol of the bells’ as an acapella piece was a departure for them too.
I learned a lot this year. I learned how to pivot my business and make it still work. I learned that people are incredibly kind and thoughtful and willing to adapt to the changes we were faced with. I’ve managed to recruit old friends in to my choirs and not be constrained by geography, meaning that the capacity to spread even more joy was achievable. I’ve rekindled a love for video editing (I used to make commercials for TV in a previous life) I’ve reignited the love for teaching children (I was a primary school teacher in the other previous life) and I’ve learned that there’s nothing as special as giving something wonderful like singing to people who really, really need it.
I’ve not made solid plans for 2021 because who knows where we’ll be – but I have the foundations for continuing the joy spreading to as many people as I can reach.
If you’re interested to join our Online Liberty Singers Community Choir for £15 a month, we meet on zoom on Mondays 7.30-8.30pm singing a range of popular songs. There’s no need for any singing experience or to be able to read music. Just register, turn up and sing your head off.
If you think your workplace would benefit from online singing to keep colleagues together as they work from home, please get in touch.