What does a choir do when it can’t be a 100-voice performing choir? The Peterborough Singers answers this question by re-inventing the 2020-21 season. Instead of typical concert offerings the choir is focusing the combined energy and imagination of its members and its conductor, Syd Birrell, on a “bridge year” in order to safely traverse the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Choir members will come together in small groups (observing all COVID-19 safety protocols) to sing a variety of repertoire: from madrigals and Broadway to opera choruses and music of the Renaissance. Some of these sessions may find a digital home for audience enjoyment, but the primary consideration is the emotional wellbeing of choir members — that and ensuring the 27-year history of the Peterborough Singers continues in future.
Cancelling a concert season is not a decision taken lightly. In the past four months the choir held Zoom rehearsals and created virtual performances, such as the news-making video of the Tragically Hip’s Bobcaygeon. As well, the organization formed a “COVID-19 recovery committee” that embarked on an exploration of safe small-group singing, the results of which are posted on the Choirs Ontario website. During this time it became clear that rather than risk disappointing both choir and audience members by announcing a typical concert season — only to face likely cancellations — a fresh approach was needed.
Of course, should the global health situation change for the better the Peterborough Singers will eagerly embrace singing in person sooner than later. As well, the choir looks forward, when the time is right, to continuing its tradition of presenting top soloists (past performers include Daniel Taylor, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Benjamin Butterfield, Suzie LeBlanc, Brett Polegato, and Measha Brueggergosman) and commissioning works by Canadian composers (past commissions include music by Serouj Kradjian, Len Ballantine, Paul Halley, and Mark Sirett). As well, beloved Peterborough Singers’ traditions such the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah will return.
For now though, the Peterborough Singers brings you a virtual recording made by members of the choir, one that speaks to the challenge and rewards that lie ahead: Bridge Over Troubled Water.
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