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Rehearsal: Online

I bet in the last few months you’ve seen all these videos of musical groups getting together online through Zoom or other video/audio sharing services playing or singing together. There’s been quartets, choirs, orchestras, bands and the bar just keeps rising. The bigger the group, the more notoriety!

You might also think off the bat that the only thing that might make this difficult is the distribution of music and scheduling for all those people to be available, (practice expected). But let’s stop and think about that for a minute.

Technology, for all its ability to bring us together in this time of isolation, is not able to ensure your experience will be the same as everyone else’s – and this is something we all have experienced.

Last night, I visited my parents to drop off some parcels, eat my dad’s awesome BBQ while outside in the nice weather and then enjoy a little barbershop rehearsal with my mom who has been a part of the chorus for a couple of years now. As we sat, my mom on her computer and headphones and I on mine, we began rehearsal without issue. Giggling, we played with our videos making silly faces and dancing in our seats just enjoying the fact that we’d have a partner to sing with. We moved into our exercises as rehearsal started and I started to sing our warm-ups when I heard something off. I turned to my mom, who sitting behind me, was singing the exact same warm-ups…only 1 second before me. I had a one second lag. My mom just grinned and continued to sing along. I gave up – I just burst out laughing! Here we are sitting in the same house on the same internet in the same room and we still couldn’t get our audio to be in sync! 

You don’t have to look far when it comes to Zoom blunders and commercials like the ones Progressive has been producing that perfectly embody the frustrations of meeting up online. There are issues with video from internet speed, audio complications like having to use two devices instead of one and more. This doesn’t even account for the user who also must learn a new technology overnight never mind a program that requires your constant participation.

Still, if you’re tech-savvy and have the right equipment and internet everything should be fine, right?


I wouldn’t bet on it.

See, the beauty of music as a group is you’re moving as one – I mean we find this mesmerizing. So many people moving and performing as one is always dazzling to the eye. Pulling a group apart and putting them on a computer screen is a completely different animal. The emails, the practice, making sure that everyone is practicing at the correct tempo on the metronome not even considering the tech side of it all. Plus, the information we’re given in person is processed so much faster than when sitting at home in front of a computer. 

You get the picture.

Now look at those videos and imagine a barbershop chorus.

There’s nothing but the sound of our voices in harmony; no instruments, no back-up music, nothing. It’s all banking on a lot of different voice qualities singing through the distortion of home technology that may or may not be working.

Performance music in general online is impossible without a little behind the scenes help. Singing in smaller groups like quartets can be doable, but still relies on both the user and technology to be up to the task. To be honest, I haven’t heard anyone’s voices besides my mother’s live since we’ve gone into isolation.

And that’s where we stand. With technology as our connector and barrier from each other.

You might be asking yourself, “Wait. You’ve said that you’ve been having rehearsal…how?”

With difficulty.

The first few rehearsals, we were just so happy to see each other and converse that we didn’t really mind the technical mishaps and just hummed to ourselves as we listened to our repertoire. It was even fun to see all these new videos of Covid-19 themed exercises that have turned into determined ear worms.

But after the novelty wore off, the frustration and realization of our situation made rehearsals more difficult. We bore with it because the situation was temporary. We’d get back together soon. What hit the nail on the coffin was an email in early May from Sweet Adelines cancelling all competitions and in-person rehearsals until a vaccine was available. You could hear the door of expectation we’d left open, just slam shut.

It’s one thing if we don’t have a competition to prepare for. It’s another to then completely withdraw the possibility of being able to practice together at all.

And there we were, stuck singing into a camera on our own for the foreseeable future.

The earlier annoyance of technology issues and singing without provoking your neighbors, (assuming your family was also understanding) just became more prominent. Motivation was harder to find without a competition in sight. The love of singing, still strong within each member of Choral-Aires, was arduous to impart without being able to hear each other and sing together. 

Barbershop singing, the experience and love for it, is about being together with those around you. It’s just not the same to sing with a recording.

It took some time, a survey, and a realization that barbershoppers all over the world were in the same situation to find a new way to rehearse.

The change started slowly. 

First it was new physical exercises. They took up more time, but we enjoyed learning some cool new moves in the comforts of our home. Then it was re-watching old competition videos and dissecting the songs, choreography and whatever came to our minds. 

Soon, we were spending our time on the things we always wanted to do, but never had the time to do in rehearsal. In-person rehearsals of the past were completely focused on getting up on the risers and going. Believe it or not, 3 hours a week doesn’t allow for much time off the risers. It’s a quick physical/vocal warm-up and then straight into the music and it’s the same with any visiting director. 

Covid-19, for how horrible and destructive it has been, has introduced us to a new world of rehearsal. With the mass production of instructive videos and barbershoppers around the world jumping from chorus to chorus to lecture and train, we’ve opened to a brave new world of musical learning. We all realized that we not only could invite guest speakers to come to our rehearsal, but that we had access to more instructors too!

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that in our small barbershop world that we undertake more than just singing. We also dance and have to emote the message of the song we choose. This factors into our score at competition, but the main focus and majority of time spent in rehearsal has always been in singing. With our new at home rehearsals we’re able to learn directly from the judges themselves about what they see and how to perform to the best of our ability on all fronts. We’re spending time learning about the mechanics of singing while also learning about all the other aspects we try to achieve in a performance.

We still sing. We still spend time working on our songs, recording ourselves and getting together with our parts in separate rooms to discuss a problem area, but now we also get to learn more about what we do. It’s a refreshing change of pace and something I’ve really enjoyed. It kind of feels like I’ve gone back to school, but there’s always something new that I’m able to take away.

I still miss our old rehearsals. I still miss hearing the women next to me singing in harmony and the chilling feeling of a resonant chord or Tag in person, but I also love this new direction. I didn’t recognize how much I personally missed technical classes I used to take in college. It motivates you to explore and grasp new concepts or look at what you can do to improve.

What’s going to be interesting is how this affects the future barbershop. I can’t wait to find out! 


Published by sjungblut

A woman in the workforce by day, a singer by night, an artist in between it all.

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