Read about our Chorus members’ experiences of virtual singing and finding creative ways to come together.
The Edinburgh Festival Chorus is at the heart of the International Festival programme. Every year since 1965, singers from Scotland have been given the opportunity to perform with world leading artists, orchestras and conductors in concerts at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. Sadly, in 2020, Chorus performances were unable to go ahead as planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, in true resilient festival spirit, under the guidance of Chorus Director Aidan Oliver, they managed to create a unique virtual recorded performance of ‘Ecce Gratum’ and ‘O Fortuna’ from Orff’s Carmina Burana, which you can view below.
Over 120 singers recorded themselves in their own homes, before a sound engineer carefully blended their voices together into this finished product. The resulting video is a nod to the varied experiences of our Festival community during lockdown, which each Chorus member has interpreted in their own way. We spoke to members about their experiences creating the piece and watching the finished product.
“I felt truly happy to see everybody, to know they're keeping well and still as artistic, cheeky and creative as ever,” said Maria.
Indeed, many Chorus members were inspired by the freedom to be creative and have fun. For Janet, family members shielding meant strict isolation and a lot of cleaning, “One day, I caught myself spraying product onto the bath to the rhythm of ‘O Fortuna’, so my action video featured...cleaning!” And Maria reflected on her performance, “I would never had imagined that I would choreograph Orff's ‘O Fortuna’ to Merengue and Salsa moves, record it and have it broadcast on national television!”
Recording a piece in this manner was a new venture for most and not without its challenges. “The goal is to make as good a recording as possible and you are self-marking, so any errors at all will result in another take being done” said Mike. “Things like blend and precision with consonants can only really be achieved properly when people can hear each other,” added Maria. “But even with those limitations, the warm and powerful sound that's so characteristic of this chorus comes through in the recording.”
It quickly became clear that it was not just the performances that Chorus members were missing, but the rehearsals too, with some meeting up virtually to stay in touch. “The rhythm of the year just isn’t the same without Tuesday nights in The Hub and the building excitement as we get nearer to the Festival itself,” said Lucy, who lives in the rural Borders.
When asked what they missed, almost everyone interviewed said it was being together with their colleagues. Janet described how “there is a magic to the shared experience that recording alone in your spare room cannot mirror.” For Amber, coming together has been important during difficult times: “It has been a crucial time to maintain creativity. That’s what makes us happy. Music can be very personal, but it can do amazing things as a shared experience.”
Some Chorus members have a long history with the Festival, and 2020 marked another meaningful chapter in that. For Anne, the choice of Carmina Burana was particularly poetic, as it was the 1988 International Festival performance of their piece that made her want to audition. Amber first sang the piece as a teenager and Mike said “It was the first big choral piece I sang something like 50 years ago and I haven’t sung it since.”
Seeing the Festival City empty of its usual performances has been a challenge for Edinburgh’s music-lovers like Janet who works at the Usher Hall as well as singing in the Chorus. “It is devastating to see the grand old dame empty – especially at this time of year… I am hoping for good things from the Festival City celebration (My Light Shines On).”
Above all, this project reminded singers of community and hope at a time when they felt they needed it. Many described the group as a ‘family’ and told stories of how singing together helped them feel at home in Scotland. As Maria put it “In choruses, what you do on your own only becomes significant and beautiful only when you put it together with what everybody else is doing.” For Anne, “I’ve missed singing with other people, seeing my chorus friends and being part of the community which is Edinburgh Festival Chorus… Not in 2020, maybe not even in 2021, but there has to be hope.”
“I am immensely proud to be part of it. I don’t know if there is another chorus like it in the world.”Amber