This December I gave my vocal cords a real workout. Not by talking about ‘the virus COVID 19, 20 and currently 21’ nonstop but by singing Christmas carols. As Ed Ayers from ABC Classic radio wisely said, “music is the greatest gift of all”. We all know that. During times of crisis, people everywhere in the world turn to music. Look at what happens during a ‘once in a hundred years’ pandemic.
My mother knew that too. She usually gave the five of us, my brothers and me, a CD for Christmas. One year my brother Bruce opened his CD case only to discover there was nothing in it. Mum pushed the eject button on the CD player and miraculously out it slid. That was the year we discovered that Mum used to do a quality check on each of our CDs before wrapping them in Christmas paper.
But even greater than a CD is having the opportunity to participate in live and not so live musical events. I experienced both this year by joining this year’s ABC Classic virtual choir and by attending the Vision Australia Carols by Candlelight. It brings family, friends and even strangers together and makes people feel uplifted.
The ABC Classic Choir – not your normal kind of choir
In December 2020, the ABC Classic choir was launched even though the world was in the midst of a pandemic where masks, social distancing and stay at home orders were the ‘new normal. These rules changed the way we had previously done everything in pre Covid times. Well most things. Singing alone in the shower was still legal but singing in a choir was not. But thank goodness for technology because smart people discovered new ways of doing things. And so the virtual choir was born.
The carol “Christmas With You” was written especially for the event by Deborah Cheetham, an Aboriginal Australian soprano, composer, playwright and actor. Wow! After signing up for the choir, participants could access everything online such as rehearsals, identifying their particular voice type, how to warm up and how to make a video of themselves singing their unique part; either bass, tenor, alto or soprano. Even if your voice was crap, no problem. The love of music and being part of something bigger than yourself was the important thing. After the preparation, the participants (now called choristers), all 1 500 of them were ready to submit their video to the ABC Classic Choir.
As I listened and watched the world premiere of the carol I was completely overcome with emotion. I grabbed the closest thing on hand which happened to be a tea towel to dab my eyes as I began to sob convulsively. I couldn’t stop. What made matters worse, I had no one to share my sobs with. I felt like Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Diary doing her rendition of ‘All by Myself’.
And now to December 2021
The world is still engulfed by the pandemic but I have decided not to let it engulf me. Instead I have allowed music to engulf me. So I joined the ABC Classic Choir for starters. This year’s beautiful carol was written by Katie Noonan, an amazing Australian singer- songwriter. Her Christmas carol, ‘All is Love’ focuses on different types of families (chosen, birth or rainbow) and even though distance can keep us apart, the bonds within our families bring and keep us together. Being part of this emotionally charged virtual choir gave me a real sense of connection. All through the pandemic, everyone in the world has experienced isolation, but music has had the power to bring people together.
Where’s Nannie Annie?
I filmed myself singing my bit (alto) in my bedroom with my harp in the background for a prop. The idea was to grab the attention of the editors. I was hoping to be in a big frame, so I could be identified easily for any potential screen roles. But instead I was in a miniscule frame amongst hundreds of others. My grandchildren had so much fun playing ‘Where’s Nannie Annie?’ a game based on the original version of ‘Where’s Wally?’ Same rules, different image.
And then I attended the Vision Australia Carols by Candlelight
Since 1956, the year Australia got television, the VA Carols by Candlelight have been televised. My family got one of the first television sets to arrive at the Hobart Wharf in Tasmania four years later. Since that year, 1960, I have been an avid couch viewer of the VA Carols by Candlelight. As a child, sitting on the couch with Mum and Dad and my four siblings and then later, watching with my own kids.
But I always had a goal to physically attend the carols. Given the current situation regarding COVID positive cases, I thought this would be years in the future. But recently the Australian government has rightly or wrongly decided to let the pandemic rip resulting in thousands of new cases each day. The way I see it, there isn’t much else they could’ve done since Omicron invaded our shores a couple of months ago. What this really means is that large scale events, previously known as super spreader events, are back on the table. Woohoo! So this year I finally ticked off that goal. As I sat in the audience, I felt the love and the COVID all around me. It was truly sensational to be surrounded by real people enjoying the concert and belting out the carols.
The VA Carols by Candlelight performers for 2021
Three of my long-time favourites Marina Prior, Anthony Callea and Denis Walter performed in this year’s event.
For a complete list of the performers for 2021, please go to https://carols.visionaustralia.org/performers
The featured image is the author preparing to sing for the 2021 ABC Classic Choir