Clambering from the Covid depths with a song

Clambering from the Covid depths with a song

University choir rehearsing again after two tough years

18-02-2022 · Reportage

MAASTRICHT. There is the sound of voices singing in the small rehearsal hall on the Bredestraat, but there are no mouths to be seen. These are hidden behind face masks. But that doesn’t matter to the members of the University Choir Maastricht this Tuesday evening, during the first ‘real’ rehearsal since the start of the pandemic. “It is so nice to finally be able to sing together again.”

It was a double blow two years ago, says chairperson Gili Yaron. First, the choir had to leave their “old, beloved” rehearsal location on the Kapoenstraat. The UM wanted to use the building for evening classes. Soon after that, the greatest spoilsport reared its ugly head: the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a well-known story: choir rehearsals appeared to be superspreading events, singing together was no longer allowed.

Since then, clinging on to the ‘group feeling’ was very hard, says Yaron. “We organised all kinds of things, from walks to rehearsals in the open air. But there was still always that uncertainty: will we ever be able to sing together the way we used to?” Twice, a new start was worked on, twice a new lockdown threw a spanner in the works.

In the meantime, the number of members dropped drastically. Whereas the choir used to have ninety singers at the start of the pandemic, it reached its all-time low of half that number last month. “Our choir is a mixture of students, staff and locals,” Yaron explains. “Turnover is greatest among students. Also, some singers felt rehearsing was too risky. As we didn’t gain any new members because of Covid, the number of singers dropped quickly.”

Marathon

But this Tuesday evening, there does finally seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. As the members start to file in, a number of them are watching the press conference by minister Kuipers on a tablet. “In two weeks’ time, we will be allowed to rehearse again without a face mask and without maintaining the 1.5-metre distance,” is the enthusiastic conclusion of the singers. But there is still some doubt here and there. Is that safe, certainly for the vulnerable members? “Anyway, eventually you have to get back to normal," a member remarks. “And everyone is asked to do a self-test beforehand, that will provide a feeling of safety.”

Conductor Wim Vluggen is certainly looking forward to it. “Because of the face masks, I have to do everything by ear. While I also want to see the expressions on the faces, the position of the mouth, the way in which someone forms vowels.” Certainly now that the choir has to practically start from scratch. “I have noticed that the voices have deteriorated, especially with the older members. It’s like starting to run again after two years of doing nothing. You wouldn’t be able to run a marathon immediately. Fortunately, everyone is picking it up rather quickly again.”

Foreign students

Vluggen is now also able to work with a full choir again. There were open rehearsals the past few weeks, in which the number of members increased to about sixty and the balance in the different singing voices has been restored. “In the process, we also had to say ‘no’,” said Yaron. “There is a tremendous amount of interest, among others from foreign students. But with the present measures in place, we had to limit the intake. After the summer, we hope to return to ninety members.”

In the meantime, the choir is rehearsing for the next concert in June, with mainly numbers in French. This will also soon be possible at a ‘own site’. The university has promised to make a new rehearsal location available, which means that they can leave the temporary, rather small practice space at Koninklijke Harmonie Ster van Maastricht, says Yaron prior to the rehearsal. An announcement that meets with applause from the members. Slowly but surely, things seem to be returning to ‘normal’.

Photo: Joey Roberts

Categories: People, Background
Tags: choir,university choir,singing,rehearsals,covid measures,instagram

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