It’s a good thing that we didn’t know, back in March when all this started, just how long it would last. I recall discussing with your committee what we should do about workshop cancellations, and saying confidently ‘Well, we should certainly be OK for the Cheddar workshop in October’. How wrong I was! But now, with the announcements about several vaccines coming on stream before long, it really does seem that we might see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Meanwhile there are plenty of innovative opportunities being provided online – thanks to Sara for the Tuesday updates which ensure that we are all informed about upcoming virtual workshops and concerts. And our first-Saturday-of-the-month SWEMF chats via Zoom have proved popular – Jonathan our Treasurer has now authorised the purchase of a paid-for Zoom account, so as from December we won’t be limited to 40-minute sessions. I’m hoping to arrange something a bit special for January 2nd, so keep an eye on your email.

We’re very open to suggestions for online events which SWEMF might organise, so do feel free to get in touch with any ideas. Meanwhile, I hope that you and yours are keeping safe, and wish you a wonderful socially-distanced Christmas – and a happier New Year than this one turned out to be!

See below for my article about looking after your voice in lockdown.

Clare Griffel

Look after your voice in lockdown

We’ve seen a lot of exhortations in the media about keeping fit during lockdown, getting out for exercise regularly, and so on. Well, singing is also a physical activity, and we certainly don’t want to find, when our choirs can finally meet face-to-face again, that our voices will not behave as they used to. In addition, Zoom choir rehearsals – and indeed, taking part in work- or family-related Zoom meetings – make their own peculiar demands on the voice. So here are a few tips for keeping the singing voice in good shape.

  1. Sing regularly – even if it’s only ten minutes a day, we need to remind those vocal muscles of the kinds of things they’re expected to do.
  2. What to sing? – no need for endless exercises – at present we need to be reminded that singing is supposed to be enjoyable, so find some songs which you really love singing. If you’re inclined to feel inhibited about singing unaccompanied, find a decent recording online and sing along.
  3. If you can, find somewhere to sing where you can relax and not worry about being overheard (not easy in a flat, I realise). Practising in a restrained, half-power sort of way can actually do more harm than good – it doesn’t have to be loud but it does need to be free. Moving around the room rather than being rooted to one spot is also good.
  4. Don’t overthink – it can be easy, particularly if you’re a choir singer and not used to hearing your voice on its own, to get very preoccupied about things like breathing. While it’s obviously good to think about technical matters, if you take it too far it’s possible to end up wondering how you ever managed to keep breathing for n years when it’s such a difficult process!
  5. Beware of random technical stuff from the Internet – although there are some good vocal technique sites out there, an awful lot of what there is, is aimed at people who want to sing Beyoncé rather than Byrd.
  6. Don’t get discouraged if your choir is holding Zoom rehearsals and you find them challenging – try forgetting that it’s just you and your iPad in your spare bedroom, and imagine that you’re surrounded by your colleagues as you would be in a ‘normal’ rehearsal. This should help you to free up your voice and not be too self-critical.
  7. If you’re asked to record yourself – maybe for a virtual church choir – don’t listen to the recording and think ‘I sound terrible!’ The microphone on a phone or tablet will not capture the full range of harmonics in your voice, so what you sound like in such a recording is not what you sound like to other people in real life – to capture that you would need a very expensive BBC-standard microphone. (However, listening through headphones will make your phone recording sound a bit better.)
  8. Be careful of your speaking voice when on Zoom, Facetime etc – and even on the phone. Although we all know intellectually that we don’t actually need to project so strongly that we could be heard five miles away without the benefit of technology, there is always a temptation to speak just a bit more forcefully. This can be very hard on the singing voice, so just be aware, and tone it down if you find yourself doing this.
  9. And finally some positives (yes, there are some): I’ve noticed with a number of my pupils who are having Zoom lessons that their voices are sounding fresher and more relaxed, perhaps because they are doing less talking in noisy cafes and offices, perhaps because the pressure of working through choruses from the B-minor Mass for two and a half hours every Tuesday has been removed. Also, getting used to singing your line in a Zoom rehearsal can do wonders for your confidence, and make you realise that yes, you really are a capable singer! And finally, there should be fewer colds and coughs around this winter, because we (well, most of us) are being so much more careful about keeping away from other people, hand-washing and so on.

So the bottom line is, as inscribed on a notepad given to me by a pupil: Keep calm and SING!