By Ron Larson, Staff Writer
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 virus a pandemic, and singers around the world began to stop rehearsing and performing in public to protect their safety as well as that of their audiences. This loss of public group singing with all of its healing, joy-producing results have affected millions of music lovers around the world. According to a study from Chorus America (June 2019), more than 54 million adults and children in the United States participate in choral groups or one kind or another. More than one in six Americans over the age of 18 sing in a chorus. However, a relatively new form of group singing has risen to bridge the gap between now and the eventual resumption of public singing – the emergence of virtual choruses, choirs, and similar groups. A virtual choir isone where members do not meet physically but record themselves at home and have the individual performance stitched together electronically to produce recordings of remarkable power and beauty.
The concept is not new. American composer and conductor Eric Whitaker created an ongoing group called Virtual Choir in 2009. The health shutdowns of 2020 have given new life to Whitaker's pioneering work. The first time I ever heard such a virtual performance was when I heard a recording of a David Wise arrangement of "It Is Well with My Soul" by a group of 31 Nashville studio singers of the Ten Two Six Music Group using only their smartphones! The result was a stunning musical performance well beyond what I had expected to hear.
Since March 2020, the Masters of Harmony have been meeting regularly on Zoom to rehearse both current and new repertoire within its technical limits (Zoom can currently handle only 2-3 audio channels at a time), to receive educationon the finer points of vocal production, and to keep the priceless bonds of fellowship alive. Members start the rehearsal by doing physical and vocal warm-ups just as they would during in-person rehearsals. They are currently working on two songs to be performed virtually. Each member is being asked to create a video/audio recording of each song using a smartphone and submit it for mixing into a finished performance worthy of MOH standards and publication online. Before each meeting, some members meet to work on singing Polecat songs under a project called Sing-At-Home Polecat Program under the direction of Adam Marangakis. Some 40+ members have expressed an interest in this program. MOH President Joe D'Amore believes that MOH Zoom meetings can maintain a choral ensemble of sufficient size to prepare for our virtual Christmas show in December, our 2021 Spring Show, and international competition next July.
With all paid performances for 2020 eliminated, the Masters, like performing groups all over the world, now faces a revenue shortfall. For now, the chorus is in reasonably good shape because of better-than-expected revenue from thelast shows performed before the onset of the pandemic. Current sources of revenue are membership dues rebates to the chapter, member donations to Donor's Choice giving through Harmony Foundation, and charitable giving from member and non-member donors in the Masters Circle. These revenue streams depend heavily on members willing topay the price needed to maintain world-class performance standards that make patrons feel MOH is worthy of their support..
On December 5, 2020, the Masters of Harmony will present its first-ever online Christmas show entitled "Making SpiritsBright." The show will utilize recordings from past Christmas shows as well as two songs recorded entirely in the new virtual format. The show will run for about an hour using the same production platform used to present the BarbershopHarmony Society's very successful AIC show in July. Viewers can watch the program free but will also have the opportunity to donate to the MOH if they so desire. The Masters family is truly excited to have this unique opportunity to take our music not only to current fans but also to many new fans that will be seeing us for the first time, some from the far corners of the world via the Internet. We hope you will tune in and let us make your Holiday Season bright!
During the general meeting held on Zoom on October 14, 2020, the following members were chosen as next year's leaders of the Masters of Harmony: President–Joe D'Amore, Executive Vice President–Craig Hughes, Secretary–Maurice Freleaux, Treasurer–Skip Farrar, VP Chapter Development–Mark Travis, VP Music & Performance–Dave Tautkus, VP Marketing–Bart Halberstadt, VP Operations–Foster Howlett, VP Public Relations–Larry Icenogle, Board Members-at-Large–Hugh Brown, Bob Hartwig, Ken Rios, and Ed Schackman.