Local Choirs Serve up Early Music Virtually in Lockdown

by Stacey Helley

Tactus SF

The Bay Area is brimming with community choirs large and small, with everything from chamber groups to ensembles with several hundred voices. With choirs unable to meet in person, many have kept their members engaged and vocally fit by gathering online to rehearse as well as develop recording and editing skills despite the logistical difficulties. Here are some early-music-specific offerings from local community choirs this fall, with an invitation to join:

Sonoma Bach, led by director Robert Worth, “will offer a variety of opportunities for remote learning, exploration and music-making for our community and beyond.” Indeed, there is already an exciting array of instructional videos, online workshops, singing and recording projects, and virtual “BachTalks” and more to come. They are producing a virtual recording project  every week (audio without video), and several are currently up on the site for all to hear. 

The San Francisco Bach Choir has a pleasantly charming video on their website announcing the choir’s embrace of the virtual platform for the fall season. The video suggests super-powers are within Magen Solomon’s baton, and Steven Bailey’s cummerbund. The season’s offerings (so far) promise to keep their members engaged with sing-at-home offerings, Bach-specific offerings, and classes to keep their technique and musicology fresh. 

The Vallejo Choral Society is tackling a virtual production of two movements of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor! No small feat to record and edit a large choir. Artistic Director Derek Tam will present “historical insights” to start off their endeavor and take the group on a deep dive into this great work. They will mesh with learning and adapting to recording skills. This is the group’s 103rd season, and will indeed be memorable.

Chora Nova, directed by Paul Flight (also the director of the California Bach Society), is a 60-voice, auditioned choir that has opened its doors to all comers for virtual rehearsals of J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 21(Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis), and well as Handel’s As Pants the Hart (HWV 251).

The Berkeley Bach Cantata Group, which lost its beloved decades-long director Ernest Knell in March, is continuing to meet once every two months as before, but now on Zoom. They continue to meet bi-monthly and have moved to Zoom rehearsals. Group member Susan Swerdlow shares that at the group’s most recent online gathering, it sang two choruses from the Mass in B minor and a precursor chorus from a cantata, sans conductor. Interested parties should contact Susan at susanswerdlow at gmail.com.

Tactus SF, a SFEMS affiliate, has recorded a number of solo and small ensemble pieces, and has experimented with singing together in real time with the software Jamulus. In addition, the group has enjoyed meeting with each other over Zoom to socialize, savor old favorites and sight-sing new choral gems.

Written by Derek Tam