Achill Choral Society back in business following enforced break

September 8, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

“When we’ve been talking to the Board and the members; it’s not going to be normal. I think we all know that. And it will be online.” So said Shawn Grenke, Artistic Director of the Achill Choral Society.

No matter what or how, “We are going to do an online Christmas concert, as a way to engage the community and make sure Achill keeps telling the community what’s going on. The biggest thing is making sure this family stays together.” 

Shawn hopes that, along the way, perhaps he and his group can even attract some new members.

“We’ll do five monthly rehearsals,” he told the Citizen, during a telephone interview, saying, “Theory, musicianship, ear training, sight singing and, for sure, some repertoire.” 

Sadly, like so many others, “We weren’t able to do our concert last May. It’s our hope that, in some form and fashion, we will be able to do something next spring: online, in a larger space. We just don’t know.”

As he relayed some of the ideas that are being considered, “There are venues around the area. We did a webinar session in the last three weeks. Or we may be able to get together with social distancing, while wearing a mask.”

Responding to the inquiry, “Yes, you can sing with a mask.” His example was with a church choir he conducts, of which the members were standing in various places around the space, singing. 

“If you closed your eyes,” he said, “You would not be able to tell they are wearing masks. That way, you can have a rehearsal for half an hour.”

The whole business of protection occupies everyone’s mind: “The plastic sheeting doesn’t have to be floor to ceiling; shower curtains are being used but I have not planned this yet but we’re planning a rehearsal with a church group next week. We’ll have to see how it goes.”

Mr. Grenke’s prime focus is the people of the ACS. 

“I expect everything is going to be online for the fall,” he suggested but adding, “My main concern is to keep the community together. If there’s anybody doing this on Zoom you can record it. The problem is, we can’t sing together on Zoom. You can put it together, but it’s very time consuming.”

Looking at the broader possibilities of new members, thinking, with the online aspect of it, they could be living anywhere.

 “Maybe we could have new members who learn the music online and then, fly down or drive to join in for a concert when everything is back,” he said.

Really cheerfully, he added, “I think it’s a wonderful way to reach out. If there are people out there who want to join in, this is an opportunity to do so.”

The money aspect of shut down is pervasive.

“This year is so uncertain, we’re asking all our members to make a donation. We still have staff: myself and Nancy Sicsic, our accompanist. A quarter of my income is concert. When Covid hit, I was on tour with the Elmer Eisler Singers in Vancouver, in March and we had done two concerts and everything got shut down and, then, we had to hunker down until the airlines could fly us out.

“Then, of course, we didn’t really know what was going on. We still had hopes that we could do concerts in May,” Grenke said.

Bemoaning for the artists, “Singers who just lost everything, as a singer, you get paid for every note you sing. So if you’re not singing, you don’t get paid. Over the months, we’ve been very creative about what you can do.”

He went on to say, “The thing with Achill, if we find we can get together wearing masks, we think that’s possible in the long run, but for the next four months. we’ll be operating virtually.”

We asked about morale and he answered, “I think our members are doing okay. I haven’t had a meeting with the choir since June. We wanted to appear to to have the summer off. Still, we’re very aware of the people living alone, and the Board is wonderful about making sure that nobody is left behind or ignored.”

As to the here and now, Mr, Grenke conceded, “Everything is online. My church work – all of our services were done virtually. The ministers recorded the service and, then, in the afternoon, I would go in and, with a singer, record the music – all social distancing. Now, the Province will allow us to open the church with singing inside.

“People have great resilience, “ he commented. “I think, if we stay positive and hopeful, keeping everybody’s spirits up and we all need to keep hope in our hearts.”

For the next concert, some of the repertoire is already in place.

“The concert we were to sing last spring was called Journey. Broadway music – World War 11 songs. We had some pieces from Indigenous composers. Louise Martin’s beautiful Grandmother Moon; Eleanor Daly’s music; folk songs from the East Coast. The choir was working on that for three months. So, we’ll add some new pieces.”

Shawn added, “My hope is for next spring.”

Meanwhile, he wants us all to keep safe with the Covid-19 pandemic showing no signs of going away anytime soon. 

“People cannot let their guard down. If anyone is interested in joining us, I would just direct them to the,” Shawn said.

The conversation then paused a few seconds for reflection. 

“In the long run, I see us all together, in time making music. This is a time to refine our musical skills. We’re not just a day care centre; we’re actually working on musicianship. When this all over, they will be better musicians. It’s become a wonderful collaboration in many ways. Interestingly, the minister joined the choir last season.

“I just think we need to keep the hope,” said Shawn Grenke. “I love the music by Bob Chilcott; I find his words so important: ‘the songs cannot live without someone to sing them.’

“I find that an important statement.”

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