Choir in harmony on Zoom
FROM YOU’RE THE VOICE TO THE APT VIRTUAL INSANITY, GROUP’S SINGING THROUGH THE LOCKDOWN BLUES
It’s Monday night in Zoomland.
People are wearing weird wigs and mad hats, and there’s a plastic palm tree and a nose f lute.
Shepparton’s 36 Degrees South choir has just held its weekly sing-along with a difference — dress-ups to blow away the cobwebs of another week in lockdown and for some, days alone in strict isolation.
“We could all do with a dose of silliness,” choirmaster Wade Gregory says.
He’s not wrong.
The choir has met regularly online through COVID-19 lockdowns, travel bans, border bubbles and rings of steel.
Through it all, members have kept singing. Wade says for the weekly meeting he usually starts with chit chat about how the week has gone, then vocal warm-ups before muting individual members and getting into the songs.
Because of computer lag, people sing alone in their own time at their screens. The only person they can hear is Wade.
“Sopranos, we’ll go from bar four — just listen to the backing track’’.
But this week was different.
“We just got straight into it with a big sing. We needed a big sing and dance to forget about COVID,” he says.
He says choir sessions also sometimes involve singing along with YouTube recordings of pub choirs or joining the giant Choir! Choir! Choir! sessions from Toronto, Canada which can have up to 2000 people at any one time singing Abba songs.
Sometimes 36 Degrees South choir members’ pets join in the fun.
“We often get people’s cats walking across the screen, so we sometimes have a special session where people appear with their pet. They can join in if they want to,” Wade says.
At the moment, the choir is working on some new tunes — John Farnham’s belter You’re The Voice, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, The Eagles’ Take It Easy and
Jamiroquai’s catchy 1996 tune Virtual Insanity — which Wade says perfectly sums up today’s situation. He points out the lyrics with added quotes of his own:
Future’s made of virtual insanity
Oh now there is no sound
(We can’t hear you — you’re on mute).
I can’t see, I can’t breathe
(Anyone wearing a mask and glasses all day long)
Whoa it’s so insane to synthesize another strain
(Delta strain perhaps?)
And I’m thinking what a mess we’re in; hard to know where to begin.
(Says it all, really).
‘‘It’s actually about the craziness of people being online and living in a virtual reality. It was way ahead of its time,’’ Wade says.
Wade, an audiologist who came out of strict isolation just this week, says the weekly choir sessions had helped provide people with some joy and certainty through the past year.
‘‘It’s partly the routine — every Monday at 7.30 pm,’’ he says.
‘‘But it’s also about connection — we’ve had people this week who said ‘I haven’t had a conversation with anyone for days’, and that includes me. Singing has also been proven to be good for mental health,’’ he says.
Wade says the only public performance the choir has given in the past year was singing Christmas carols from the balcony of Dookie’s Gladstone Hotel last year.
He said performing to an audience 50 m away in the dusty car park made the concert quite memorable.
‘‘Having the wheat trucks rumble past every five minutes certainly added to the festive atmosphere,’’ he says.
He said the past few days had seen choir members delivering food to fellow members in isolation.
‘‘We’re out this afternoon leaving home-grown mandarins, pumpkin soup and cakes on people’s doorsteps,’’ he said.
He said keeping connected was good for the soul and the body.
‘‘It’s good to keep singing
because when we do get back together, we’re not starting from scratch — and the voice is like any other muscle, you have to keep using it,’’ he said.
The choir has been singing in various forms ever since music teacher Tricia Baggs formed female choir Heart and Soul about 15 years ago. Today, 36 Degrees South has anywhere between 20 to 25 members, including men and women.