Nanaimo Sings! recently celebrated two special virtual choir performances that are the result of a recent project entitled “Keeping Calm and Singing On”. An umbrella organization for 16 local community choirs located between Ladysmith and Lantzville and including Gabriola Island, Nanaimo Sings! serves about 400 singers ranging in age from five to the very young-at-heart nonagenarian singers in their nineties. More information about Nanaimo Sings! can be found at www.nanaimosings.com.
When the Covid 19 pandemic struck, singers lost not only a source of personal enjoyment but also a significant social connection. Many choirs went completely ‘dark’ with the result that those singers have not been singing at all. Only a few choirs have continued by using zoom to keep singers connected and singing. On rare occasions that small groups have been able to gather outdoors or in large spaces to sing, the singers have worn masks and been well distanced. Suffice to say, choral music has taken a huge hit because of the pandemic. Singers have been deprived of both the joy and the proven benefits of singing: enhanced physical, social, emotional and brain health. Communities have been denied the pleasure of hearing live singing.
2021 was to have been the fifth Nanaimo Sings! festival year. In the absence of being able to hold this event, the Nanaimo Sings! Planning Team developed a pandemic project that would give interested singers an opportunity to sing again, albeit it virtually. With funding from the City of Nanaimo, the Nanaimo Foundation and project participants, “Keeping Calm and Singing On“ was launched in October of 2020 and is now complete. Although nothing is as satisfying as singing together in person, it has provided a unique choral experience for all 66 participants. Fourteen Nanaimo Sings! choirs were represented in this project.
Two special pieces of music were chosen for this project. The first, entitled Hearth and Fire, was written by Gordon Bok and arranged by Willi Zwozdesky, ED of the BC Choral Federation and renowned choral director. We were delighted to have Willi join us as consultant and Artistic Director for this project. The second piece, Island Oohlahey, is a made-in-Nanaimo composition written especially for Nanaimo Sings!. It was found through a search conducted locally to find the second perfect song for our project. Created by local singers/songwriters, Rick Scott and Valerie Hennell, Island Oohlahey celebrates singing together, our community and this beautiful place we call home. To have it arranged for choir, we commissioned Nanaimo musician/composer, Nico Rhodes. It is exactly what we wanted for “Keeping Calm and Singing On”!
With instruction and support from Willi Zwozdesky and Nico Rhodes, audio and video learning materials were created to help singers work on the music at home. Patricia Plumley, choral director and music instructor at VCC, ran Zoom rehearsals for participants to learn and practice. Members of the Nanaimo Sings! Planning Team made learning tracks and a special ‘how to’ video to guide participants through the recording process. Singers set up creative studios in their homes in order to video record themselves. They used ear buds to hear the music as they sang and watched Artistic Director, Willi Zwozdesky direct them on video. The learning curve was steep for most of the participants as they grappled with the technology; however, with tenacity and support, they made their recordings and submitted them to our AV editor, James Chappell, for final compilation. Everyone kept calm and sang on. Singing this way is not at all what choristers know and love but it’s better than no singing at all. Singers love to sing!
A virtual Red Carpet Gala for the” Keeping Calm and Singing On” project was held on May 7 to honour the musicians responsible for the music we sang, those who helped us achieve what we set out to create and all of the participants in this unique event. The virtual choir performances of Hearth and Fire and Island Oohlahey, can be viewed on YouTube at