The Year that Wasn’t
When the coronavirus pandemic started in early 2020, the Marin Symphony Chorus was in the midst of rehearsing Carmina Burana. One of the earliest mass spread events was a church choir in Washington State where more than half the choir caught COVID in a single rehearsal and a couple of their members died. At this point the symphony immediately cancelled rehearsals and the remainder of its season.
Consort decided it would handle the pandemic by creating an entirely online 2020 season while we all “sheltered at home” in our “pods.” Each day, during the months when we would have been rehearsing, a “Season of the Day” email was sent celebrating one of our past performances with a recording or story. At the end of season, on our regular performance day, we held an online streamed concert composed of some of our favorite past performances narrated by Allan. These can all be viewed here.
At that time no one expected the pandemic would continue for as long as it has. Just as our 2021 season should have been kicking off, the Delta variant surge began. Since we could not start rehearsals in May, a plan was made to hold a weekend workshop in August "after the surge had passed."
Our first ambitions for the workshop were to invite other local groups to join us, each performing two or three songs, encouraging vocal singing to return. But as the Delta surge continued, we scaled the workshop back to include only our own vaccinated members for both the workshop and a no-audience performance that would be recorded and distributed online.
Alas, the surge continued all summer until we had to cancel the workshop altogether. It finally slowed down in October so we met to consider a new date. We did not want to compete with an anticipated busy choral holiday season, so we chose to reschedule the workshop for January 2022.
That was when the Omicron variant surge began, strengthened by the social gatherings of the holidays. The January workshop had to be cancelled before we could even complete registration.
As the Omicron surge began to wane in spring of 2022, we moved towards doing a full season, with almost the same repertoire as planned in 2020, and our same guest director, Jennaya Robison.
The Marin Symphony Chorus also restarted rehearsals for Carmina Burana. Rehearsals were held in a large room with windows open, everyone six feet apart, masked, and vaccinated. At the final dress rehearsals, they switched to singing without masks and having everyone do rapid-tests. Even with those protocols in place, they still had one person who tested positive after the first performance, and had already spread COVID to two others.
By this time the variants were becoming milder, especially for those who were fully vaccinated with multiple boosters. So Consort decided to follow the Symphony’s rehearsal protocols and continue with the season. We tried to be distanced in the pews, but the singers objected and we moved to the chancel, still wearing our masks.
At the same time, the Allan Petker Chorale decided to go forward with its tour of Scotland. But by the time the tour began, the newest variants, BA.4 and BA.5 were rampant throughout both California and the British Isles. Three people arrived at the tour having already come down with COVID on the way, and an additional five more came down with it throughout the remainder of the tour. Fortunately all eight cases were relatively mild and were able to do the then required five days of isolation and rejoin the tour.
Following the tour, at the July workshop of Consort we continued to wear masks, but decided that soloists could sing without masks during their solos. Unfortunately, one of the soloists tested positive the next day, but had already spread COVID to two other singers and then their spouses.
Nonetheless, since the cases were no longer life threatening, we continued with the season. We stayed masked right up to the final dress rehearsals. We then switched to requiring rapid-tests for the singers and followed the church’s policy of encouraging, but not requiring masks for the audience.
Happily, we had no outbreaks during Consort Week, and as far as we know, there were no cases at, or following the performance. We had heard that most choruses were experiencing smaller audiences, only 50-80% of previous attendance. Indeed, the size of our chorus was 80% of 2019. But our 2022 audience was close to 85% of our last concert in 2019, so it was a wonderful comeback after such a long wait.
It was hard to realize that it had been three years between the 2019 and the 2022 concerts. But Consort has survived. As of this writing in September of 2022, the pandemic is still not over, but we have faith that we have come through the worst of it without loosing any of our members, and we are still making beautiful music together.