One of the enduring memories of the coronavirus will no doubt be musicians and singers performing on balconies in far-flung cities or connecting across the world via the magic of technology.
In Cayman, a group of singers decided to get together to form a community choir and, with some coordination and a little help from The Beatles, a beautiful rendition of ‘Let It Be’ was born.
The choir has provided some much-needed comfort and support to its members. “It was pretty daunting to arrive on Grand Cayman on my own and go straight into self-isolation and lockdown,” said Dr. Lisa Joels. “Being welcomed into the Cayman Community Choir has been amazing and has helped me get through challenging times; but more importantly, it’s made me feel a real part of this Caymankind community.”
Music teacher and organiser Allnutt sat down (virtually) with Living and answered all the burning questions we had about how the choir got started and the logistics behind getting socially distanced people to sing in harmony.
How did the idea for the choir come about?
I was on Facebook in the first week of the lockdowns, feeling a bit sorry for myself and missing my students, when the Pub Choir (from Australia) video of ‘Close to You’ popped up. It was just a glorious celebration of music, bringing so many people together, remotely, that I knew it was something that Cayman needed. Then, a lovely teacher friend pushed me in the same direction and that was it.
When did it begin?
We originally set the choir up as individual, twice-weekly events on Facebook and our first rehearsal was on 23 March. We now rehearse with a live stream on the designated Cayman Community Choir Facebook page and as a Zoom meeting.
We have also combined the Community Choir with the Youth Choir, whose virtual performance of ‘Lean on Me’ is currently being edited. It’s wonderful to see all age groups coming together in song. We have around 70-80 people taking part every week, and they aren’t all from Cayman, so we’re gradually going worldwide. From Cayman to a sitting room near you very soon.
How did you recruit people to join?
Recruitment was easy because everyone has been looking for new projects, adventures, ways to come together as a community, ways to meet new people, and to push themselves out of their comfort zones. The arts, as a whole, have collectively kept a lot of people going in these challenging times.
I initially reached out to people on Facebook groups such as ‘The Real Women of Cayman’ and by sharing with everyone I knew, including the community of talented singers in the Cayman National Choir. Now, word of mouth is really how we keep recruiting people and every day I get a few more enquiries from people who want to get involved.
Where did you get the inspiration for the ‘Let It Be’ performance?
At the time, we were at the start of our lockdown journey and it felt right to do a song that was more contemplative and reflected us coming together as a community, regardless of our challenges. I also wanted to make sure that we raised awareness for charities for the vulnerable people of Cayman, through singing. The tone of the song was just perfect and the feeling of togetherness you get – seeing all those people coming together in the chorus of the song – is quite something and certainly makes me feel emotional every time I watch it.
It must have been complicated to get that many people together. How did you manage it?
It was certainly a very steep learning curve, working out how to create the virtual choir performance. The main problem is that you cannot rehearse or record musicians coming together virtually live, because the timing lag is huge. If you try to all clap together on a Zoom meeting, it sounds like everyone is giving a round of applause.
I therefore used the Pub Choir model to record the singers’ individual videos. They listened to a track I had recorded and videoed themselves singing along with it.
We realised early on that editing it together was not going to be an easy task and we were so lucky that Sean Bodden from Kerfuffle Content volunteered his time and energy to put it all together for us.
Was anyone reluctant to participate?
It was amazing how everyone had so much trust and faith in the project from the start. For many people, they had little-or-no singing or choir experience. I wanted to make sure that they felt totally comfortable doing their videos and that they didn’t feel under pressure to be perfect. We were singing to have fun and to come together as a community, so perfection was never the goal. It’s so important that everyone has fun and that they know they are valued, and I’ve tried my hardest to make sure that everyone is smiling. I’m so proud of everyone for what they have achieved. It’s simply amazing.
The finished video looks great! How long did the whole project take from start to finish?
The singers were submitting videos to me for feedback and for submission up until 6 April, then Sean shared his final masterpiece with us on 25 April.
When did the video get launched and what was the feedback from everyone?
We initially launched the video on our Facebook page on 25 April and overnight we got 2,000 views. This quickly rose to over 10,000 views over a couple of days (best birthday present ever) and now it has over 13,000 views with 178 people sharing the video around the world.
We were amazed when it was featured as the “..and finally” segment on Fox News’ ‘Inside Edition’ last week too! The feedback from everyone has been amazing. As a music teacher, this is what makes my job so special and I am so lucky to do something I adore.
Are you planning any similar projects?
Some of us participated in the World Choir performance of ‘Fix You’ on 3 May and I am now editing together a joint Cayman Community and Youth Choir audio performance of ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers, which we started after his sad passing. For this performance, all singers have shared photographs of them having a ‘lovely day’ in the past, present or of their ‘future’ lovely day, when life returns to some normality.
We’ve also been working on ‘We Are the World’ and ‘Stand By Me’.
How can someone participate in the choir?
Anyone can join Cayman Community Choir; we would never have auditions. This is a group for everyone to take part in and for everyone to be proud of. The easiest way to join is to reach out to me on WhatsApp 922-2079 or by email at [email protected]. If you enjoy singing or even if you want to try something new, this is the group for you.