Latvia during the pandemic: being together in the land that sings

Due to the emergency measures put in place to stop the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus, several Latvian choirs are using modern technology and the internet to continue rehearsing and recording new songs in preparation for the next season in the “land that sings”, according to a Latvian Radio broadcast on April 3.

“Our very essence – being together and doing things together – is now dismantled. That's why we have to look for completely new, alternative ways to be together,” said Juventus choir conductor Valdis Tomsons.

As previously reported, Juventus, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary online, showcased their rendition of Māris Šverns' indie classic “Mans zirgs” (“My Horse”) by singing their parts separately at home and then assembling them into a single soundtrack. “It was a very nice experience and also gave the choir singers an emotional lift, because that song is very dear to us and we're increasingly starting to miss each other,” said Tomsons.

The choir plans to “meet” once a week using the online Zoom video communications platform to see each other, chat and do breathing exercises. “Working your diaphragm is still the same as fitness. It's also a muscle, and if you don't use it for several months, then when you meet afterwards you have to start from the beginning. So we're taking care to keep in shape,” said the conductor.

However technology can't solve everything. Conductors can't properly hear how each choir singer sounds and varying internet speeds don't allow everyone to sing in sync. The Juventus choir members recorded their parts individually according to beat, then merged the sounds together. The Sōla choir decided to jokingly record how an attempt at a regular rehearsal sounds on the Zoom platform:

Saulkrasti choir Anima got the idea from an American Latvian choir how to hold remote rehearsals. The choir's 40 singers meet twice a week on Zoom, but split into groups by soprano, alto and men. They get around the previously mentioned problem by each mutig their microphone and singing with the accompaniment. She doesn't hear them, but they can learn new songs together this way.

“Conductors are also frequently psychologists, and we also have to deal with that, because the first reaction from many is “no, I can't do that!”. Slowly, talking and regularly calling each other, in the end specifically those singers who said “no, no, no” did it,” said Anima conductor Laura Leontjeva.

After rehearsals the Amina singers record themselves and share it with the conductor. The choir  also recently shared the world premiere of the song “Smiltis” (“Sand”) by Kristaps Krievkalns and Kārlis Kazāks.

Juventus is planning on rehearsing new songs for their upcoming 100 year anniversary celebration in October. The anniversary concert will feature songs by 13 composers who were given the theme well before the outbreak of the pandemic: everything new, the birth of something new. Given the current circumstances the theme is taking on a whole new meaning.
 

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