2020: A Year to Remember?
As we head towards the year’s end, it’s traditional to reflect on the past months and all our achievements and celebrations. Of course, 2020 chucked something of a spanner in the works! Covid-19 and its resulting lockdowns, social distancing measures and concerns for the health and well-being of everyone in our different communities forced us to do things differently.
This time last year, we were all on a high with our Convention success and full of Christmas songs and cheer (although our renditions of ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ genuinely made our MD, Craig, a bit grumpy!). We headed into the start of 2020 with much to look forward to and successes to be built on. In early March, our vocal coach, Rob Mance, flew in from the States with an armful of exercises, techniques and ideas. We had a fantastic weekend, full of energy, purpose and laughter and talked a lot about what it meant to be a part of the Bristol Fashion family.
And then lockdown 1.0 struck. No going out, no singing, no getting together. We scurried around sharing tips on virtual conferencing trying to make sense of what would, out of necessity, become our ‘new normal’. We hoped it would only be a matter of weeks before we were able to sing together again. But as the reality dawned that we really wouldn’t be able to gather in song for the foreseeable future, we became determined to keep our singing family together and make the best of the situation we found ourselves in.
So, our Thursday rehearsals took place over Zoom with a break at 8pm to clap for carers – and everyone else who kept our lives going amidst great uncertainty. I think it’s fair to say that many of us found the whole online thing a bit weird to start with! Staring back at your on-screen self is un-nerving, as is wrestling with ‘you’re on mute’, and singing along to buffered sound. Most disheartening of all was singing to a screen in an empty room without the physical presence and aura of our fellow choristers.
However, out of all this potential gloom came the glimmer of opportunity for innovation, learning and sharing knowledge. We began to find time to pick up with things we never get around to when we rehearse in person once a week. We learned about such things as music theory, improving our performance, the ageing voice, the meaning behind lyrics and song. We met up with our friends across the Barbershop community; we would really like to thank, in particular, Jo Braham, Sally McLean and Rob Mance for their online coaching, to the Fortuity and Sonic girls for sharing their experiences of quartetting, everyone in Avon Harmony, Fascinating Rhythm and Black Sheep Harmony for our super-rehearsal, and our kindred spirits over at Signature Chorus who stayed on after rehearsal to share a drink in our weekly virtual afterglow! Members of the chorus took the chance to take to the stage and run aspects of rehearsals: weekly vocal and physical warm-ups from Debbie Trotman and Caroline Bamford, sessions on mental well-being with Debbie Penfold, and our Youth Chorus members, Natasha Nickson and Lamorna Hooker (and their pets!), who stole the show with their energetic rehearsal takeover! Of course, we couldn’t have done any of this without the work behind the scenes of our fantastic Music and Performance team and Committee (especially our MD, Craig Kehoe and Chair, Fliss Procter) for keeping our show on this long and winding road, week in and week out.
One of the most brilliantly surprising things to have come out of all this, however, hasn’t been what happens on a Thursday night. It’s all the stuff that goes on alongside it – the intangible, unmeasurable little gems that have popped up and have come to define our fantastically bonkers, yet incredibly kind, Bristol Fashion family. There have been virtual coffee mornings, social evenings, pub quizzes. On WhatsApp (which has been our lifeblood throughout this) we’ve formed sewing and craft groups, Song Clubs, bake-offs and book clubs. We’ve picnicked at a distance in a very big park. We’ve gone back in time to share our performances of the past, and ruminated over the often perplexing question of whether to ‘shop, or not to ‘shop a song (thanks Vonny Flowers!). We’ve laughed a lot about the lack of haircuts, at various memes, at the ridiculousness of the situation we’ve found ourselves in. And we never forget to celebrate a birthday by singing ‘Happy Birthday’ together… often in the keys of A, B, C and D – and all the keys between!!
When we’re down, there has been the reassurance that we can always reach out and someone will be there with a comforting word, no matter what time or day of the week. When we miss a rehearsal or two, a discreet nod goes out to check-in and make sure all is ok. We’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together and most of all, we’ve sung together. As we knock on the door of 2021 and everything it may bring, we raise a glass to each other and say thank you, everyone, for making the very best of this year to remember.
Debbie Nichol, Bristol Fashion