Bournemouth has a special place in the hearts of A Kind of Magic – the mixed chorus collaboration of Cottontown Chorus and Amersham A Cappella. It’s there we won the BABS Mixed Chorus contest in 2019 and it’s where we’ll now perform our swansong in 2021 as outgoing champions. We were expecting our swansong to be at Harrogate this year but, for rather obvious reasons, that had to change.

Many things have changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and that’s certainly the case with Cottontown rehearsals. We continue to hold our regular Tuesday rehearsals but like most choruses around the world we’re holding these on Zoom. Without technology such as this we would have struggled to keep members connected and engaged.  Most of the rehearsal time is used for education and inspiration sessions rather than actual singing as we’ve not found a way of solving the problems with audio delay. We discuss our current rep songs and find ways to improve them, we analyse our past performances to see what we can do better, we get inspired by watching performances from the world’s top quartets and choruses and we run workshops on music theory, vocal production and performance technique. We’ve also had a number of distinguished guests join us including Royce Ferguson, Steve Tramack and Joe Cerutti who have all added their magic to our Tuesday evenings.

We’ve also used Zoom to hook up with our good friends Amersham A Cappella – our partners in A Kind of Magic – most recently when we were joined by David and Sandi Wright who provided more great ideas and guidance on developing our mixed chorus performances.

Fairly early in lock-down Cottontown was pleased to be able to contribute to the BBC’s Big Night In fundraiser. Someone had the bright idea to do a virtual choir recording of the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows as a thank-you to NHS and keyworkers - but with only nine days to go before the Big Night In event! We were all still relative novices at working with Zoom and we weren’t sure how it would turn out or even if we could do it at all. But with a steep learning curve and a lot of effort from many people we produced audio and video that we were happy with. Most importantly the video raised over £2K to help support vulnerable people who had been hard hit by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The video was also done as a tribute to Dr John Kelly, a long-time barbershopper and recent Cottontown recruit, who sadly died from coronavirus.

John Kelsey
Cottontown Chorus

When ‘A kind of magic’ (the joint collaboration between the Cottontown Chorus and Amersham A Cappella) won last year’s mixed chorus competition, none of us could have imagined that the 2020 BABS convention would be cancelled and that Harrogate Convention Centre would be transformed into an NHS Nightingale hospital.

Coronavirus slammed the door shut not only on what would have been our swansong performance as champions at this year’s convention but also on a host of other functions that our chorus had planned, including a trip to BinG in Dortmund, Germany.

However, we were perhaps better prepared than many other choruses for the reality of rehearsing in lockdown, as Amersham and Cottontown had rehearsed ‘virtually’ ahead of last year’s convention. We had to - as we’re in Amersham and Cottontown is based in Bolton! This meant that our rehearsal logistics had to be very carefully thought out. We rehearsed our own sections separately and sent each other vocal and video recordings to practise against.

Fast forward to today and that’s the blueprint we’ve been following since lockdown kicked in. At Amersham, like other choirs, we’ve had to embrace weekly Zoom rehearsals and get used to a new way of interacting. We’ve been learning new songs, recording ourselves individually and dueting over Zoom. We’ve also instigated several initiatives to keep ourselves motivated, connected and fulfilled even when we can’t physically sing together.

For example, we have a daily session on Facebook Live which provides us with an update and a chance to natter online, plus a weekly ‘vocal focal ‘with Helen, our musical director, on how to look after our voices and improve vocal technique. Our wonderful cake-maker Tina has introduced a weekly online class in which she shares her recipes and shows us step-by-step how to make her fabulous creations. We’ve also had Jenny taking us on regular ‘wanders through the woodland’; motivational comedy videos from our Performance team; ‘sewing studio’ with Donna showing us how to make hair scrunchies and face masks ... and our very own soap opera ‘CluckEnders’, starring Justine’s chickens who are locked up in CluckAtraz or languishing in Cluckingham Palace depending on the day!

On a more serious note, Soozi, a renowned psychotherapist, presents ‘mid-week musings’ which help us to understand and cope with the ‘new normal’ from a psychological perspective. She reminds us that we’re not alone in how we’re feeling and offers us effective coping strategies and support.

Although we’re lucky to have members of our chorus who are taking on these tasks, we honestly can’t wait until the day that we’re able to meet up and sing together face-to-face again. And, all being well, we’re greatly looking forward to performing our championship package at next year’s BABS convention. In the meantime, we’re sending you all big kisses. See you in Bournemouth!

Amanda Dawson
PRO, Amersham A Cappella