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Bishop's Stortford Choral Society invites singers to join them from home for online rehearsals of Handel's Messiah

Bishop’s Stortford's premier choir is offering music lovers the opportunity to join with them to sing Handel’s great oratorio Messiah this winter – from the comfort of their own homes.

Bishop’s Stortford Choral Society (BSCS) is inviting singers, wherever they live, to take part in weekly online rehearsals of one of the most popular Baroque masterpieces of all time.

The choir has been holding Thursday evening rehearsals on video conferencing app Zoom since spring because meeting in person has not been possible due to social distancing guidelines.

Richard Brain directs the Bishop's Stortford Choral Society concert at the Methodist Church. (42754499)
Richard Brain directs the Bishop's Stortford Choral Society concert at the Methodist Church. (42754499)

Each virtual session is led by BSCS musical director Richard Brain from his home in Bedfordshire with the assistance of the choir’s experienced piano accompanist, Liz Hill.

They regularly attract 40 to 50 choir members, who link in from their lounges, kitchens, studies or spare rooms. The furthest ‘Zoomer’ is near Glasgow.

Members get a chance to rehearse different voice parts as well as their own and learn more about the character and history of the pieces they are learning.

"While it can never replace face-to-face singing, it's remarkable how technology has kept us together, making music and enjoying each other's company," said Richard.

"Virtual rehearsals allow us to maintain our vocal technique and spend more time discussing nuances in the music that we might miss in live rehearsals when preparing for a concert. Fundamentally, though, our rehearsals are about allowing people to enjoy the fun of singing and keeping our community together during these challenging times."

The verdict from the choir is positive. One member said: "I think it's strengthened my voice and taught me different things from normal rehearsals.” Others say they enjoy the rehearsals but miss the real thing and being able to meet up with friends.

BSCS chair Ros Rowe admits it’s been a challenge: "While we miss the interaction in a shared venue, we can still socialise using online break-out rooms, where we can see our friends in real time and welcome new members."

The choir was disappointed to postpone its 100th anniversary concert in June at Saffron Hall, where it was due to perform Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius with Barnet Choral Society, which is also celebrating a century of song. There are high hopes this can go ahead in July 2021, if safe to do so.

"We live in hope of physically joining together in song – it’s a matter of when that becomes possible!” says Ros.

For now, BSCS is throwing open its virtual rehearsal room to non-members anywhere who are missing choral singing and music-making with others. All you need is a computer or smartphone that can download the Zoom app and a vocal score of Messiah; the New Novello Choral Edition is available online for just a few pounds.

Online rehearsals take place every Thursday from 8pm to 9.30pm, with a 10-minute interval break.

The fee for all rehearsals until Christmas is £15 – less than £2 a week. For further details contact BSCS via the website www.singwithbscs.org.uk .

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