A New Years “Note” | Spirituality in the Arts
By BETH STYLES | Producer, Composer, Artist
As the world takes another ‘tour’ around the sun, choirs and a multitude of musical artists are still waiting for theirs… since health warnings still loom for public gatherings, and especially singing. There was a glimmer of hope before Omicron, and as the director of a community choir, I know how much the group was looking forward to reuniting for some jubilant outdoor holiday singing after canceling last year. Fondly known as the “Street Angels” annual event, the choir traditionally takes a spin around town on a yellow school bus, singing for seniors, serenading at the Stamford Town Center, and jingling at the Palace Theater as children gleefully emerge from the Nutcracker. This has always been a special outing, where the choir is not under pressure like at a concert venue, doing what they love, and having the unique opportunity to share joy and surprise passersby – a gift that never gets old.
And then, once more, heartbreak set in, as we needed to cancel yet again. Of course, this melancholy postponement can never be compared to the despair of Covid’s real life losses, or to urgent issues such as addressing the emotional toll of isolation on children and/or seniors. And while isolation for any and all of us impacts society as a whole, this is more of a reflective “note” on how when this beloved musical treasure seemed indefinitely missing, the human spirit rose up with clever solutions to conquer this saboteur, or musical “Grinch” if you will.
I’m speaking about the new world of “virtual choir videos”. When the ban of public singing sank in, taking a million breaths away… like many other producers, I donned my parachute and took a leap of faith into this new world – even launching a new division of my production company called “Virtual Sanctuaries”, to help support music directors and choirs across the country. By now most folks have likely seen this phenomenon on social media – and for sure, it really helped soften the blow, providing some refuge for the time being. Choirs met on Zoom to practice, albeit muted, but at least connecting, and working together on music to record. Ok, alone… in a quiet room… but then VOILA! Modern technology brings it all together… and before you knew it, in an unexpected harmonious twist, virtual choir videos slowly became a new powerful, inspirational tool used by choirs worldwide. Kind of like a new era of “MTV”… choir version.
Perhaps well said by the now world famous “virtual choir” genius Eric Whitaker, “the virtual choir would never replace live music or a real choir, but the same sort of focus and intent and esprit de corps is evident in both, and at the end of the day it seems to me a genuine artistic expression.”
If you’ve ever had the experience of singing in a choir, you’re not a stranger to its power. And/or if you happen to be an admirer of this art form, you’ve likely been moved in the presence of its majesty – be it Gospel, American Classical or Pop, Theater ensembles, or Mormon Tabernacle-ish, just to name a few. So what is this power magnifique? What is this Je ne sais quoi ingredient that brings on the goose bumps? The words I’ve most often heard to describe this experience by both choir and audience, be it secular or religious repertoire, is deeply “spiritual”. And I’ve come to understand that people use this word to describe that which is indescribable. And, perhaps, if we had to name it, we might describe it as universal love.
Music, can spontaneously transform an unbearable moment of despair into an unexpected joy. And, in particular, expressed by a chorus – young and older, can shine a light on the glorious connection that is innate in human beings. Here’s to the wonder of it all – and the hope that we get to experience that spiritual, indescribable, magic up close and personal in this new year!