Forgotten Song? 


Do you stand in sympathy with the Regent Honeyeater?  According to a BBC report,1 –  it has forgotten its song!  This Australian songbird has become so endangered that the young birds rarely hear the adults’ call, and therefore fail to emulate it. Since the Honeyeater’s song is key to its mating rituals, the species risks further decline.

It seems to me that during the pandemic many of us have forgotten our song. We’ve forgotten how to express some of the joy that keeps us whole. Sometimes, we’ve forgotten our potential, who we can become as we’ve seen only the limitations of our confined lives.  Additionally, we’ve lost some of our literal song, as the concert halls, the performance venues, the community gatherings have been muffled and gagged.

The church Chris and I attend in north Florida, for the past year of our isolation, offers a recorded service.  The pastor shares a brief message accompanied by piano and, occasionally, flute music.  When the weather permits, she records this outdoors where it is intermingled with the songs of life, bird calls, (she has a resident hawk always alert to her pet cats), sirens, and the resounding hoot of a train.  These accompaniments make us smile, but they do not replace the pleasure of community and choral singing.

Unlike the Regent Honeyeater, the situation is not quite so bleak for us. In the last year we have been introduced to the technological magic of virtual choirs. Many of us have wondered how an odd collection of people, recording themselves from the discomfort of their spare bedrooms, garden sheds, and broom closets, can be edited together to produce a fine, choral sound.

Many years ago Chris taught a promising young student who now, together  with his partner, directs a virtual choir at a church in South Carolina. Last summer Chris joined the chorus and the journey of virtual singing began.

You may recall, Chris has a wonderful tenor voice and his repertoire includes opera, musical theatre, popular and sacred song. He loves to join the South Carolina virtual choir community – which, of course, extends far beyond South Carolina in these viral times, and his curiosity was piqued as to how this magic virtual wand is waved.

Turns out, the enchantment hinges on an excellent conductor, who records a conducting track as well as the music for each part. When each participant precisely follows the conductor’s lead it’s easier for the technical editor to combine the recordings so that the sound is clean, clear and sharp as it would be were all the singers gathered in the same place. For those of us shower singers who watch and listen to this in awe, there may come a time when we have identified the little rectangle that shows our favorite vocalist and our minds threaten to drift. There is yet more art to claim our attention. A skilled editor, (as Chris now is, working with another virtual choir in Massachusetts), can add a video, perhaps of the gathering and resolution of a storm, the flight of an eagle, the time-lapsed unfurling of a flower, or a story that compliments the music or the musicians.

While it’s not Carnegie Hall, nonetheless, virtual choirs remind us that we haven’t quite forgotten our song.

Black Lives Matter Girl sitting in the sea


End Notes

Virtual Choir

Praise His Holy Name
Keith Hampton

God So Loved the World
John Stainer


Klara and the Sun
Kazuo Ishiguro


I Wish I Could Go Travelling Again
Stacey Kent

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius 
Janet Baker & Sir Adrian Boult


Smuggler’s Song
Rudyard Kipling

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