The New Members Guide to Joining a Choir During a Pandemic!
Anne-marie, Emma and Fionna
Fascinating Rhythm members say that the best part of being in a choir is the fun, friendship and joy of group singing. However, when Anne-marie, Emma and Fionna decided to join Fascinating Rhythm after coming to our tenth Learn To Sing Workshop in February 2020, they got a little more (or less) than they bargained for.
Just a few weeks after our three ‘newbies’ passed their auditions, the coronavirus pandemic plunged us into a national lockdown. Our weekly face-to-face rehearsals at The Greenfield Centre in Winterbourne were cancelled, and we scrambled to find a way for our choir to meet online.
Despite the highs and lows of Zoom rehearsals, Anne-marie, Emma and Fionna have stuck with us over the past fifteen months, becoming fully-fledged members of Fascinating Rhythm.
Now, with the prospect of a return to in-person rehearsals insight, we asked them what it’s been like as a ‘newbies’ during the pandemic and what they’re looking forward to about singing with the chorus post-lockdown.
What encouraged you to join Fascinating Rhythm?
Fionna: “I’ve known about Fascinating Rhythm for about ten years because I made the bookings for Rangeworthy Village Hall, where you used to rehearse. I’ve always liked singing, and I sang in the school choir, but I never considered myself good enough to sing with you because you always seem so professional, dedicated and talented!”
Emma: “I did lots of singing when I was younger, but then family, marriage and work took over. I’d heard Fascinating Rhythm sing lots of times because my daughter sings with Junior FR, and I felt very jealous that she was singing with a choir. Wendy persuaded me to come along to the Learn To Sing day, and I was completely hooked!”
Anne-marie: “I’ve been coming to your Learn To Sing workshops for several years but wasn’t able to join the chorus because of work and family commitments. Then, in October 2019, Wendy came to a singing forum for my Music With Mummy business, and I just thought, ‘I have to do this now!’ I spend my life singing for work, but I also want to sing for pleasure.”
Fionna: “I’ve actually been to four Learn To Sing days! But it was the last two that really persuaded me to join Fascinating Rhythm because I just loved the songs. Attending the workshops helped me build my confidence, as I don’t read music or play an instrument.”
What were your first (in-person) rehearsals like?
Anne-marie: “What I loved about walking into my first rehearsal was feeling very comfortable. I knew quite a few people, and there were familiar faces from the Learn to Sing day, which made me feel happier.”
Emma: “I was petrified of coming to my first rehearsal – it’s a bit intimidating seeing you all on the risers being amazing! But everyone was welcoming and supportive, and people I’d met at the Learn to Sing day came over to say hello. It made me feel part of something special.”
Fionna: “Everyone was friendly, very chatty and welcoming, and to stand on the risers and hear the sound all around me – being part of that was amazing!”
Fionna: “Fascinating Rhythm has a reputation for a high standard, but I found that as long as you have the basics of singing, you can learn the rest. It’s been a really positive experience.”
Emma: “Joining Fascinating Rhythm pushed me outside my comfort zone, but I was brought in very quickly. I was terrified of the audition, but once I passed, it was the best feeling ever!”
What has been your experience of online rehearsals?
Emma: “When the pandemic started, everything went crazy! Working from home and home-schooling was challenging and I felt like I spent far too much time on Zoom. But Fascinating Rhythm gave me something just for me, away from work and the family – my escape (even if still at home)!”
Fionna: “Zoom has been good because everyone joins the call with their name on display, so I’ve been able to get to know who everyone is. But I don’t like being in a big group on screen – it’s quite daunting.”
Emma: “I’ve tried to turn Zoom into a positive, and Jo, Karen L, Wendy and others have put in so much energy, structure and momentum to the online rehearsals. I went through stages of “I can’t face it” on Zoom because of work, but I was never made to feel I had to be there. The fact that we’ve all kept going is a real testament to Fascinating Rhythm as a group.”
Anne-marie: “I lack the confidence to speak up when we talk about what the songs are about, but part of our new process for learning is getting to the essence of a song. I’m just concentrating on remembering the notes and words – then I’m happy.”
Emma: “Not knowing the warm-ups was a challenge, but Wendy and Karen did an amazing job of getting us up to speed. It was also hard to get to know people online, but the Bass WhatsApp group and buddying-up with Anne-marie and Kate B really helped, as did the breakout groups organised by Jo.”
Fionna: “One of the funniest Zoom moments was playing The Generation Game on party night. I knocked my laptop over when I was passing things in front of the screen – and that was just one of, lots of things, that went wrong!”
Anne-marie: “… and Becky’s voiceover commentary was hilarious.”
Emma: “I’ve laughed ’til I’ve cried on Zoom with Fascinating Rhythm. The Generation Game was a real Tena-Lady moment! And when Jo asked people to say the song lyrics in ‘what’s the next line?’ and no-one could remember the words! I’ve also cried because it’s been so emotional: when Di sang with her daughter Mads, it was so beautiful.”
Has singing helped during lockdown?
Fionna: “Jo did lessons with us in the early part of the first lockdown. It was like getting free singing lessons, and it really helped! It’s quite reassuring to feel like there is a process and a system for learning and assessment that you all follow. Although lockdown has taken away a huge amount of song-learning time because I used to do it in the car.”
Anne-marie: “I drive half an hour to work (and half an hour back) every day, so I use that time for song learning. Sometimes I’ll listen to teach tracks when I’m out walking and sing along in the quiet country lanes. My partner joins in too – he’s been learning with me!”
Emma: “During the lockdown, I’ve had time to catch up on the basics of learning songs. Anne-marie and I chivvied each other along. At the weekends, I’d go into the garden and sing for a couple of hours.”
Anne-marie: “I’ve loved learning the repertoire – it’s kept me sane during the lockdown. I’ve been doing about one song per month. Emma and I buddied up with Kate B, supporting each other on WhatsApp and motivating each other for recording – we call ourselves the Bass Buddies.”
Fionna: “The first two audition songs were assessed in person (singing in a quartet with the Section Leaders and Jo listening), and I found it hard to keep my part. I much prefer being able to record on my own at home against the teach track – it removes the nerves of doing it in-person during the tea break. So, I’m very keen to get as many songs signed off as possible before lockdown ends!”
Anne-marie: “The first song I have to record to send in was ‘And So It Goes’. I didn’t realise you just had to do an audio track, so I put make-up on and did a full video! Brenda always says lovely things when giving feedback on my recordings, even if there’s a bit I have to work on. She’s very supportive.”
Emma: “When I signed off ‘This Is Me’, I felt like I’d made it! The hardest to learn was ‘Listen To The Music’ – I was nearly in tears over that one, but Brenda’s encouraging feedback helped me to get there in the end.”
Anne-marie: “My best bit has been receiving a certificate for passing all my audition pieces – it was the highlight of my lockdown!”
What’s your favourite Fascinating Rhythm song?
Fionna: “I like ‘Make Your Own Kind Of Music, which I’ve learnt, and ‘Titanium’ is one of my favourite songs anyway.”
Anne-marie: “My favourites are ‘City Of Stars’, ‘Anthem’ and ‘And So It Goes’. I was learning City Of Stars’ when my dog was poorly. Sadly, he’s passed away now, but every time I sing it, I sing it for him.”
Emma: “‘And So It Goes’ is my absolute favourite Fascinating Rhythm song. ‘Titanium’ was one of my favourites before, and I can’t wait to sing it with the chorus. ‘Anthem’, too.”
What are you most looking forward to about returning to in-person rehearsals?
Fionna: “I’m looking forward to picking up where we left off in March last year. And that feeling of singing with others, rather than on my own.”
Emma: “I’m most looking forward to singing with everyone and hearing the Fascinating Rhythm sound. I think singing ‘Titanium’ will be really special, as a new song that we have learnt during the lockdown and therefore new to everyone (oldies and newbies alike).”
Anne-marie: “I’m slightly nervous about going back to face-to-face in case I’ve built it up too much in my head! But I’m looking forward to finally meeting everyone, the friends I’ve made online, and becoming ‘proper’ friends. And the singing, of course! I’ve been in Fascinating Rhythm a year, but when I go back, I’ll be a beginner again.”
Fionna: “It’s nice to be still thought of as new, even a year on. It’s really welcome.”
What would you say to someone who is thinking of joining a choir-like Fascinating Rhythm post-covid?
Emma: “Just do it! Go for it and do it for yourself because it’s the most amazing hobby. When you get signed off, it’s the best feeling. Embrace the opportunities and the scariness because it will take you out of your comfort zone… in a good way!”
Fionna: “Singing is a good way of losing yourself in something completely different, away from the day-to-day. It’s been good for my mental health.”
Anne-marie: “The sense of achievement I feel with Fascinating Rhythm has blown me away. I run my own business – I work long hours, and I love my job, but it doesn’t push me out of my comfort zone. Being part of Fascinating Rhythm pushes me to do more, and the sense of achievement and recognition has been amazing. Every time I get a sign-off, I whoop with joy! It’s a massive achievement that I can do it.”
Fionna: “And don’t think you can’t sing because you can probably sing enough. You do have to hold your own, which is tricky, but hearing all the notes is an amazing experience. So, give it a go, and you might surprise yourself!”
Anne-marie: “I’d say you couldn’t meet a more supportive group of people. And fun!”
Emma: “I can’t wait for the next Learn To Sing (when we’re able to do one), so I can bring other people along!”
…and if reading about our newbies’ experience of joining Fascinating Rhythm has inspired you to take up singing post-covid, we’d love to hear from you. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
You might also like to see other articles in the Fascinating Rhythm Insight series:
05 – Why warm-up?
07 – Breathing to Sing