In its last session before COVID-19 hit in March 2020, Whistler’s Barbed Choir sang The Band’s classic late-‘60s hit, “The Weight.” Like so many things in those strange and uncertain days at the dawn of the pandemic, the night took on a palpable tension.
“That was actually the night before everything shut down. We had a small group and it was a weird vibe,” says choir leader Jeanette Bruce. “We were like, ‘Are we going to be allowed to do this next time?’ Of course, the answer was no.”
Fast-forward to July 2021, and after 16 months when we can all attest to feeling the weight of the world on our shoulders, Whistler’s rock ‘n’ roll choir decided to bring it full circle, singing the same song in its first in-person session at Florence Petersen Park.
“The word is appreciation,” Bruce says of the opportunity to sing together again. “The people who come are so excited to see people in person; they’re so excited to make music together. The enthusiasm has been amazing. Myself and Laura Nedelak put quite a bit of effort into preparing the sessions, so it’s so satisfying to know that people are still into it, they still really enjoy the process and that we are still wanted. We haven’t lost our relevance.”
As restrictions have begun to ease up, Whistler’s three main choirs—the adult chorus Whistler Singers, the Whistler Children’s Chorus for Grades 1 through 7, as well as the aforementioned Barbed Choir—are back singing together again, with certain protective measures in place, of course. For now, the choirs are meeting outdoors, with plans to move indoors—with masks on and proof of vaccination required for those eligible—in due time.
Like so many choirs around the world, it’s been more than a year of virtual work-arounds. Both Bruce and Whistler Singers director Alison Hunter relied on guidance from the BC Choral Federation early in COVID-19, and researched everything from air ventilation systems to various digital software that would allow them to continue meeting in some form—and they did. Barbed Choir met on Zoom for a period, with Nedelak providing the score on guitar, while participants sang from their respective spaces. The children’s choir did the same, except with Bruce and pianist Allyn Pringle together in the same room, as the kids followed along at home. The Whistler Singers, meanwhile, also shifted to online rehearsals and had to get creative for its popular, long-running Christmas Eve Carol Service last year, filming the songs from Hunter’s backyard and presenting it entirely online for the first time.
“We couldn’t just not do it,” Hunter says of the 37th annual service. “In 30-odd years, it was the first Christmas Eve at home.”
But of course no technological fix could ever replace the feeling of actually singing together in the same space, not to mention the strong sense of community that has long been an essential part of Whistler’s choral groups.
“Community is a very important part of it so it’s not just that we sing, but everybody gets to know each other,” Hunter says of the Whistler Singers. “Nobody has to audition and there have been a lot of people over the last few years who go, ‘Oh, I’d love to sing, but I can’t sing.’ And I say, ‘Just come.’ Everybody can sing. Some of us, me included, had a Grade 4 music teacher who told me I could never sing and I’d never do anything in music, and here I am.”
With COVID-19 numbers climbing, the fall and winter plans for the community’s choirs are very much up in the air. The Whistler Singers are already making moves to pre-record the Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve services, for instance, but otherwise, plans are to continue meeting in person, with masks and physically distanced, as health restrictions allow.
“We have a lot of plans. Plan A, B, C; it just goes on,” Hunter says. “I joked to Jeanette yesterday that we’re on Plan J now for Christmas Eve.”
Barbed Choir’s next outdoor session—singing Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”—is slated for Sept. 19 at Florence Petersen Park at 7 p.m. Stay up to date with the choir’s latest news through its Facebook group.
The Whistler Children’s Chorus, which recently completed a four-day, outdoor choir “boot camp,” will begin its fall season on Tuesday, Sept. 21 in Florence Petersen Park, and will meet every Tuesday this fall from 4 to 5 p.m. Registration is required by emailing Bruce at email@example.com. All applicable health guidelines will be followed once the meetings move indoors at the library.
The Whistler Singers also meet Tuesdays, from 7 until 9 p.m., with the next session slated for Myrtle Philip Community School. Hunter says masks and proof of vaccination will be required.
For more information, visit whistlerchorus.org. Those interested in joining can also email Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org.