On March 11, 2020, we rehearsed the usual Lenten songs in preparation for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Easter services in early April. We casually walked out of the choir room with our friends and said, “See you Sunday,” as we usually did.
Three days later, we learned that Sunday church services were cancelled due to restrictions on large gatherings caused by the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases.
Churches were encouraged to remain closed because being indoors in close contact with fellow worshippers was a palpable health risk. Worse yet, a March choir rehearsal in Washington State caused the deaths of two choir members and significant illness in many other choir members due to COVID-19.
This news was shocking for this lifelong singer and choir member since age 8. How could an activity that has given me so much pleasure, both individually and in groups, be so deadly?
Singing has brought me joy since I could make sounds. As a preschooler, I sang along with my parents’ musical albums. The Wizard of Oz, The King and I, Oklahoma, and Peter Pan were daily favorites.
I joined my church’s Junior Choir at age 8 and sang solos occasionally with the high school Chapel Choir. I even took private voice lessons with our choir director, who smartly recruited choir members by offering them a 50% discount.
In high school I won the Arion Award for outstanding achievement as a choral musician. I was ecstatic as a chorus member in three high school musicals: Bye Bye Birdie, Pajama Game, and Annie Get Your Gun. I went on to sing in choruses both at the University of Illinois and the University of South Florida.
Along with many folks in my age group, I loved singing the harmony in ‘60s folk and rock songs with close friends at parties and over a campfire (with s’mores).
It is hard to describe the emotions that take place when singing with others. There is camaraderie in the tedious pounding out of the parts of a new piece of music. Singing together produces endorphins and creates a strong and intimate bond, even euphoria, among fellow singers. As an alto, singing a part that contrasts with the melody and harmonizes nicely with the lower parts is gratifying. There is a strong sense of oneness when singing a meaningful duet.
Many close friends started out as fellow choir members. The biggest testimonial is that I married a fellow choir member from St. Mark United Church in Valrico almost 21 years ago.
My feelings of joy when thinking of singing together have been replaced by feelings of anxiety and fear when thinking about doing the same exact activity. The world has turned upside down indeed!
What can we fellow singers do while we wait for COVID-19 reliable treatments and a vaccine?
I find myself humming most of the day and singing original tunes to my cat, a captive audience right now. Tom and I watch familiar musicals and have discovered delightful musicals from the 1930s – 1950s on TCM. Recently, we sang along with Grease and Flower Drum Song.
This July, you may want to join me in taking the OLLI-USF virtual class led by Harriet Deer entitled, “Musical Films: Traditional and Experimental.” The four-week class will watch and discuss two golden age musical films, Oklahoma and The Music Man, followed by two experimental musical films, Hair and What a Lovely War.
I’ll be singing my heart out at home, along with the singers in each of these films, as I wait to join my fellow singers in person someday.
Diane Henrikson Russell joined OLLI in 2014. She has taken over 70 OLLI courses on leadership, radio, life story writing, Tai Chi, healthy aging, literature, science, politics, sociology, technology, theater, genealogy, and humanities.
Diane volunteers as a proofreader for the OLLI class catalog and for OLLI Connects.