‘We are going to be safe and keep singing’: Local choral groups make adaptations during pandemic

Representatives of San Diego singing groups speak during a webinar Oct. 21.
Representatives of San Diego singing groups speak during a webinar Oct. 21.

When COVID-19-related shutdowns went into effect in March, the concert halls, churches, schools and other venues that normally house San Diego’s choral groups went quiet. But the choirs didn’t.

Several singing troupes kept busy, continuing their rehearsals from their homes and figuring out how to bring concerts to computer screens.

The Choral Consortium of San Diego — a service organization that brings together choirs and choral supporters around San Diego to promote the vocal arts — invited 14 choral groups to a virtual meeting Oct. 21 to share how each one is adapting during the pandemic.

“It’s inspiring to hear how much music is still going on; it gives me great encouragement,” said La Jolla Symphony & Chorus Executive Director Stephanie Weaver.

Despite having migrated all activities to virtual platforms since the first week of March, the LJS&C administration has been working behind the scenes to find ways to engage its members, create educational opportunities and find the right combination of online and in-person performances, she said.

La Jolla Symphony & Chorus Executive Director Stephanie Weaver
Stephanie Weaver, executive director of the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, addresses an Oct. 21 webinar in discussing the group’s plans for the coming year.

“We are in the unique position of being a community orchestra and chorus, and a campus orchestra and chorus through our affiliation with UC San Diego,” Weaver said. “With the chorus, we have created a series of educational opportunities in place of rehearsal, including vocal diction, basic fundamental musical concepts, basic piano classes and things of that nature over the summer. We will be continuing that through the fall with some community sing [events] in partnership with other local choruses. In addition, because we are affiliated with UCSD, the students and the community members that are involved take this as a class. So they will have lectures by [conductor] Steven Schick once a week.”

In late August, LJS&C launched “version four” of its season, themed “On the Horizon,” which is slated to begin in February in some form.

“It’s looking less and less likely that we are able to perform in person, so we are working behind the scenes to reimagine what the season will look like,” Weaver said. “The big shift for us was to introduce a pay-what-you-can subscription program this year, so we asked all of our donors to pay what they wanted to in terms of a subscription membership. It could be $5 or $500, just trusting us that we would create something for them, whatever is safe, online, in person or some hybrid version of that. We are working to re-create that again and will have something to announce in November.”

Weaver also said the group was able to successfully hold its first virtual gala, during which the LJS&C chorus performed an arrangement of
the Mamas and the Papas classic “California Dreamin’” — a “dreamy version of that song, and [we] are hoping to broadcast that more widely in the future.”

“We are taking it one concert at a time and reinventing virtual, safe possibilities for those concerts,” she said.

Representatives of other groups said they are re-releasing recordings of favorite concerts, producing new virtual concerts, partnering with local high schools and having participants stand in plastic hoops to encourage social distancing.

The Choral Consortium of San Diego will hold a “virtual sing-along” with nine choirs Saturday, Nov. 7. The consortium has seven La Jolla-based choirs in its membership, including the JCompany Youth Theater, La Jolla Presbyterian Church and the La Jolla Renaissance Singers.

“This is unique in that we have nine different choral directors from nine different member choirs of the consortium, each presenting a different song,” said Executive Director Carol Maniford. “It will be fun, free and virtual. We are also planning an in-person event we hope to happen in the spring, depending on whether safety conditions allow. … It would be a ‘San Diego Sings’ community sing-along in place of what we normally do every two years, which is an all-day choral festival. We don’t think the choirs are going to be ready in March, but the public might be ready and willing to get together and sing in a safe, socially distant way. We hope.”

Sacra/Profana — whose assistant conductor and choral music instructor, Lara Korneychuk, is performing arts educator at La Jolla’s The Bishop’s School — is producing digital content and releasing it on platforms such as YouTube.

“We are going to continue with content like that through at least the first quarter of next year,” said board President Karl Bunker. “We have some tentative plans to do some live concerts if we can as we head toward summer [2021], but that will depend on when we can rehearse together. So we are going to be safe and keep singing, but it is going to be separated.” ◆