Loud & Proud is an LGBT+ choir based in Edinburgh that sings a wide range of songs from different genres.

Prior to the pandemic, Loud & Proud would meet weekly and organise three major concerts per year, as well as performing special outreach gigs in schools, at pride events and even at the Scottish Parliament. Then, in March 2020, everything changed . . .

Responding to the Covid-19 Pandemic musically

Loud & Proud decided to move its rehearsals onto Zoom during the Covid-19 pandemic. Like many other musical groups, the choir was faced with the problem of latency, which makes it difficult for musicians to stay in time with each other when singing or playing music on a digital platform like Zoom. 

As a solution, Loud & Proud decided to rehearse with all singers on mute, apart from the musical director. The choir began by concentrating on simple two- or three-part arrangements, before moving on to more complicated four-part arrangements once they felt confident and comfortable. Singing alone is, however, a rather different experience from singing as part of a choir. As Ken from Loud & Proud explains, singing as part of a group provides a sense of support that is hard to replicate when everyone is singing on mute. As choir member Ken says: 

There's definitely a kind of coherence that happens when you're singing with other people who are singing the same thing, you may not all get all the right notes at the right time, but between you all, you mash it up and make it work.

Kathleen Cronie, Musical Director of Loud and Proud, responded to this challenge by moving from playing the piano and singing for the group to developing multi-part backing tracks. As a result, she was able to offer more support to each section of the choir. She explains:

If the altos needed some support, I could turn up the alto parts so they could hear what their part sounded like in the mix and then go back to a balanced three- or four-parts mix.

Finding ways to stay connected

Kathleen stressed that “community solutions” were just as important as “musical solutions”. The choir experimented with different ways of meeting up and participating creatively in an effort to keep a sense of community alive for everyone. This meant finding ways to ensure that the members continued to feel connected and had the opportunity to socialise.

While members were getting used to the Zoom rehearsals, the choir started a musical version of a book club. This entailed watching videos about singing that were available online – such as Ted talks – and then chatting about them. This provided a basis for conversation, avoiding the awkwardness that can sometimes be experienced on an unstructured Zoom call.

For those who didn’t want to continue rehearsing with the choir in a virtual format, Loud & Proud endeavoured to find alternative ways to stay in contact. The choir held social events, such as music sharing events that were closed to the public. For example, when the choir met up to sing through the term’s repertoire, there were also opportunities to get involved that did not require singing, such as reciting a poem or acting as the MC for part of the event.

Loud & Proud also experimented with non-digital ways of connecting with members. At the beginning of the pandemic, the choir sent out postcards that had photographs of the group at previous events. The photos had been edited so that they contained speech bubbles where members could write funny captions. Members were able to share what they wrote and compete in a caption competition. 

Overcoming the challenges and finding the benefits

A positive outcome of Loud & Proud’s approach to rehearsing on Zoom was that, as all the singers were on mute, “the sense of having to have a balance throughout the parts for something to work has been less important” (Kathleen). This allowed for greater flexibility, meaning that if an individual could not commit to rehearsing every week, they could choose their own level of engagement. Additionally, the ability to rehearse remotely from home and the option to turn off the camera or to simply listen to the music also provided members with more choice over how they wished to participate.

While rehearsing on Zoom didn’t work for some people, for others it proved to be a surprisingly social space. Breakout rooms in particular emerged as a great tool for encouraging new friendships among the choir. This became clear when Loud & Proud developed a new format for the online sessions: after singing together for most of the rehearsal, they would spend the end of the session chatting with each other in breakout rooms. Initially, Zoom could only assign people to breakout rooms randomly - this created a new opportunity for the group to mingle, particularly with people from other sections of the choir with whom they might not have had the chance to speak to previously.

Kathleen reports that the time spent chatting gradually increased from ten minutes to half an hour. When Zoom updated its platform and the possibility to assign people to specific rooms became available, the group continued to use the random assortment feature in order to continue connecting with a variety of people. In this case, the digital format of the rehearsals created an unforeseen benefit for the choir.

Opportunities for collaboration and innovation

During the pandemic, Loud & Proud was part of an international three-choir project, with partners in Munich and Kiev. Singers met online once a month to rehearse, and the project involved three musical directors – one from each choir – who took responsibility for a part of the rehearsal. This allowed choirs to experience different ways of working. Moreover, each choir provided a song, enabling the sharing of new material among singers from across Europe. Kathleen explains:

At the end of the project, a ‘making of’ video was put together for the LEGATO choir festival online. In it, you get to see the three musical directors working in different ways. During the project, we asked singers to unmute and to sing the first line of a round so that we could hear some live singing across all three countries. Then they went back on to mute as the backing track played for everyone to sing along to. After that, once we learned all three of the songs from the three countries, a virtual choir project was made.

Moving Forward

At the time of interview, Loud & Proud had had its first in-person, outdoor rehearsal. The choir took a cautious, thorough approach to this meeting. This was important not only from a safety perspective but also a musical one, as it was crucial to think about how singers would still be able to hear each other, while standing at a distance, and to make sure that the choir was singing something that worked with a reduced number of attendees.

These in-person rehearsals were optional, and the choir carried out a risk assessment and produced a document detailing the requirements, such as masks and temperature checks, so that singers would know what to expect. Loud & Proud then reviewed how members felt about the in-person rehearsal and asked if they would like to continue in this way, reverting to online sessions if people were not comfortable.

While Loud & Proud’s primary focus is on returning to in-person rehearsals when safe to do so, certain elements of their online experience during the pandemic brought unexpected benefits to the choir. These included the opportunities for all sections of the choir to get to know each other, the increased flexibility offered by the muted Zoom format, and collaborating with other choirs. 

For more information about Loud & Proud, please visit https://loudandproudchoir.org/