In the early days of COVID-19, choir singers in the US and the Netherlands were severely impacted by the virus. This provided a frightening wake up call for choirs across the world. Our own TSO Chorus have sacrificed an exciting international 2020 program to protect the health of their members, and they've flipped rehearsals on their head using the internet and the great outdoors to stay connected and keep singing. We spoke with June Tyzack, TSO Chorusmaster about what was planned and what currently is happening in 2020.
Tell us what you had planned for the TSO Chorus for 2020?
We had four concerts scheduled with the orchestra this year. We luckily got to perform the Brahms’ Requiem, but we’re still unsure around Beethoven Mass in C and La Traviata. We had Mofo at the start of the year which was great. We have a regional Tasmanian tour planned for the end of the year which may still happen, but you never know. We’ve also got a recording with the orchestra, which is special as we’ve only ever recorded with the orchestra once before and that was Advance Australia Fair, so to have our own recording is something we’ve really been looking forward to. I know the group would be overwhelmed to hear ABC Classic present the TSO with the TSO Chorus on air, it would be a reward for all their hard work.
And not to be forgotten, we had an overseas trip which we would be coming home from right now. It involved a performance in the Berlin Philharmonie with the Berlin Radio Choir and their orchestra, and it was a performance of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, the last movement of Beethoven Nine, Ode to Joy (which was also going to be sung by people in the audience - so a mass choir event), and a work that was commissioned by English composer, Roxanna Panufnik, it is a work written for nine international choirs, including us! We were each going to sing a movement alongside the Berlin Radio Choir which would have been such a privilege. And if that wasn’t enough, each choir was asked to sing a work by themselves in the Philharmonie in that concert, and we were going to perform Matthew Orlovich’s, My Nurse and I.
When that first concert was cancelled (to the public) and you had a full chorus ready to sing - tell me what you were thinking…
My first thought was congratulations Caroline (TSO CEO) for deciding to put the Brahms Requiem concert on without an audience. Then I thought congratulations TSO for quickly deciding to film it. I was really pleased for the chorus that they got to perform having put so much effort into learning it, and the sacrifices they all made in order to attend all the rehearsals. But I was disappointed, as a lot of the choristers had guests coming from interstate to see them perform and there ended up being quite a few tears shed by individuals at that time, so it was a bitter-sweet experience for all. But they all agreed it was a worthwhile experience and they loved being able to share it via Daily Dose. It was also our first performance with Eivind, our new Chief Conductor, so we’re really grateful to have that opportunity.
The Chorus are a really connected group of people who seem to enjoy being together, can you share your ethos around leadership?
This whole isolation situation has really made me realise that they actually regard me as someone that is not only looking after them musically but also more than that, their welfare. I really like working one on one, so this is a dichotomy as I work one-to-eighty, which is really out of my comfort zone; being in front of eighty people is confronting for me. I think it’s just taken me until now to truly realise how important my role is to all of them. I try to challenge them, to set a standard that is comparable to professional choruses. I also move them around in the rehearsal room; I call them my ‘bag of liquorice all sorts’ and this helps them be more connected as the sections mingle and don’t just stick together. This is not a common thing to do. They really support each other through hard times, and I think that’s because we encourage the social aspect and group connectedness.
I’m not sure what my leadership style is but I really do care about everybody; I care about them on a personal level and on a musical level and I’m seeing how that translates now as they commit to our remote rehearsal situation. It is so important to them.
So, since the closure of our concert halls, what is the TSO Chorus doing to continue rehearsals?
While we could not be together at all we were using zoom to rehearse, but boy it’s problematic as it’s not designed for this purpose. Not everyone was comfortable with using technology in this way; they’re so used to singing in a group and this really exposed them all as individual singers. It’s had its benefits for me as I am able to hear them individually, and work on things I maybe would not have had the opportunity to otherwise, but this is obviously more work for me too. I have members of the chorus who’ve stepped up to help me with this style of rehearsal which has been incredible; it’s so hard to go through this change.
Now that we can be together in small groups, and observing the strict COVID guidelines, we’ve experimented with rehearsing in a number of diverse venues; from Knocklofty, Tolosa Park to Kangaroo Bluff! Again, these are all experiments to see what works best for our group. At this stage it looks like a combination of Zoom and smaller outdoor rehearsals are our way forward. For now.
What are your hopes for the future of the TSO Chorus?
That we can ultimately all be together again doing what we love. That we can be united with the full TSO orchestra in front of a live audience, and that we can use our experience during this time to become even more connected with the music we love and have a new appreciation for the joy it brings us, and others.