NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — After 35 years of bringing music into the community, not even a global pandemic could quiet down the North Kingstown Community Chorus, who’ve taken the show online in their first virtual chorus, “How Can I Keep From Singing.”
The song, commissioned by the North Kingstown Community Chorus before the pandemic, was written by Westerly-based composer Tom Kendzia to honor the group’s 35th anniversary and, according to Director Heather Skidds, the name ended up being more fitting than she could’ve ever imagined.
“We chose the text ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’ and we commissioned local composer Tom Kendzia to write new music for us for that text, because we thought it’d be a beautiful expression of the joy of singing,” Skidds, who works with Kendzia at the Christ The King Church in Kingston, said. “Little did we know that we really would be kept from singing in person, and so the text has really poignant meaning now, because how can we keep from singing when we’re all separated at home.”
The chorus, which normally has around 100 members, in addition to the 30 youth singers who are part of the group’s Youth Chorus, had to figure out a completely new model this spring once COVID-19 hit.
“In the spring when the pandemic really came upon us and we could no longer safely rehearse and perform in person, we decided that we would go ahead and see if we could switch to being a virtual chorus, at least for the time being,” Skidds said. “It involved a lot of tech setup, particularly for a lot of our members who aren’t particularly tech savvy, but we’re doing it and things are going really well.”
Skidds leads rehearsals for the members via Zoom and had her singers film their individual parts and send them to her so she can edit the clips and sync them all up into a proper choral piece before uploading them to the group’s YouTube and Facebook pages. She also has helped her members become better acquainted with the technology by creating a series of instructional videos on Facebook for members.
“I’ve created videos for people to watch on (Facebook) for our members to figure out how do they log into a Zoom rehearsal, how do they create their videos, do they need a computer, do they need an iPad, do they need a phone, do they need earbuds (and) all of those types of things they might need, so I’ve tried to give them a lot of direction along the way,” Skidds said.
To Skidds, the most important part of the choral piece was being able to get it out into the world, no matter the media.
“We had planned to perform this song live in our concerts in May, and singing really means so much to our members and we really feel like the North Kingstown community is such a wonderful community in (its) support of the arts and we’re really happy to be part of the arts community in town and our chorus has been in existence for 35 years, originally started by Roberta Belanger, and we really try to do so much within the community in terms of scholarships helping our local school departments and their music programs, outreach to nursing homes and a lot of that just can’t be done right now because of the pandemic, so we’re happy to at least get some music and joy out there to people in the world as best as we can,” Skidds said.
The video, which debuted last week on Facebook and YouTube, has already amassed 8,000 views between the two platforms and Skidds says feedback from both the community and the members themselves has been excellent.
“We’ve had enormous positive feedback and the chorus members themselves are so excited to be able to continue to sing,” Skidds said. “For many of them it’s quite a challenge to be able to create these videos at home alone, not being the most tech savvy and plus the experience of recording yourself alone without other people is quite challenging when you’re used to singing in a large chorus and also I really commend them for their bravery in doing this and stepping up and they’ve just been so excited.”
As for the Youth Chorus, Skidds said they debuted their first virtual choir, a performance of the traditional folk song “Peace Like a River,” on Wednesday and that the process had been much the same as with their adult counterparts.
Both choruses have now turned their attention to the holiday season, with Skidds saying both will be releasing a second seasonal virtual choir sometime next month.
“It’s really rewarding for them to see our work still getting out into the community,” Skidds said.
To view the North Kingstown Community Chorus performance, check out their Facebook and YouTube pages, under NK Community-Chorus and NK Chorus respectively, or visit their website, nkchorus.org.