COVID-19 can’t stop the music at Australian Catholic University’s Brisbane campus.
ACU choir co-ordinator Timothy Sherlock had led the return of choirs on the Brisbane, Melbourne, North Sydney and Strathfield campuses early this year but the coronavirus outbreak intervened.
After only two rehearsals, the pandemic meant rehearsals had to be suspended indefinitely.
“Choirs around the world have been grieving and lamenting the loss of this powerful human activity, which under different circumstances can promote tremendous benefits for mind, body and spirit,” Mr Sherlock said.
But now a small group of staff members and one student at ACU’s Brisbane campus at Banyo are singing back.
Under Mr Sherlock’s guidance about a dozen of them ventured outdoors in mid-May to sing for the first time in many weeks.
“Taking care to maintain physical distancing, the singers learnt and performed the late Bill Withers’ song Lean On Me to send a message of hope and joy to the campus community,” Mr Sherlock said.
The session was recorded and posted to social media as a live performance.
It worked so well and the singers enjoyed it so much they’ve had a second rehearsal, and they’re keen to continue.
“Over the course of the last month, the media has been saturated with stories from overseas presenting a dire future for choral singing due to the risk of infection,” Mr Sherlock said.
“Staff from ACU Brisbane have tried to balance this with a positive outlook by staying hopeful, finding joy and connecting through song.”
Pastoral associate for staff at the ACU Brisbane campus Colleen Tracey said “this was Tim’s way of keeping song – the joy of music – on campus through all of this”.
“That was how he came up with the idea of, ‘Well, we can’t do it indoors; let’s bring it outdoors, and socially distance …’,” she said.
Mr Sherlock said there was scientific evidence around the world that “singing, being forced and sustained expiration of breath, has the potential to be dangerous in an indoor setting and that’s why we thought, ‘Let’s do it outside …’”.
One staff member was so keen to be of this that she made a special trip into the campus for the second rehearsal at a time when she was working from home.
“It’s fabulous. I’ve actually come in especially for this today, because I could’ve just done my job at home but it’s good to come in and be part of the group, singing in the sun, making beautiful music together,” Deirdre Bryson said.
“I love singing, I love music, but to be part of a group of people singing there’s just something different about that.
“There’s something more joyful; there’s something more expressive.
“It’s greater than the sum of the parts. It’s just a lovely experience.
“A joy shared, is a joy massively expanded.”
Kate D’Orazio is another staff member who misses singing in the regular ACU choir and loves joining the outdoor group.
She invited student Rachel Resiato to the second outdoor session.
Ms D’Orazio said one of her “favourite things is just singing with a bunch of people and being amazed at what a beautiful sound you make”.
“It’s nice to have this space (outside) and for people not to be too shy and embarrassed about singing. They just come together and let it out,” she said.
For Ms Resiato, joining the outdoor choir during COVID-19 restrictions was wonderful because of the opportunity of “seeing people, for one, and being around new faces”.
“And singing has this unreal vibe. It just has a happy and joyful vibe,” she said.
Ms Tracey is new to singing in a choir and she’s loving it.
“It’s been joyful, very uplifting to be involved,” she said.
“It’s taken me out of my comfort zone.
“I’m not used to singing, but it’s been really uplifting, and I’ve made new connections with people and it’s been a lovely experience. I’ve really enjoyed it.
“I think singing is another way of communicating.
“It just brings a different level of joy into a way of expressing yourself so I think it’s been lovely in this time of isolation to be able to express yourself through song.”
Ms Tracey said she “can’t actually sing … I’m just here for the fun” but Mr Sherlock interjects with the assurance that “she can sing”.
ACU chaplain Franciscan Father Harry Chan is another newcomer who says he can’t sing but Mr Sherlock tells him he can.
“We’ve done some rehearsals with you and I can hear a lovely voice in there … It’s just confidence; singing is about confidence …,” Mr Sherlock said.
Fr Chan said he was enjoying the experience very much.
“We’re very lucky to have Tim as our music co-ordinator,” he said.
“He’s an amazing teacher, because I’m not a fast learner, so he has a lot of patience in teaching us new songs.
“I always like the quote from St Augustine, ‘If you sing well, you pray twice’.
“Even though some of the songs we sing may not be so religious, they still bring hope and joy to the world and to the people.
“I think music has the power to bring people together, to connect with each other through music.”
Pastoral associate for students Gabrielle Fernandes said the outdoor choir had been a good way to join “with different people who are sort of hidden away at the moment in their office spaces and might not be in contact otherwise”.
“I think it’s just been nice to get out and encourage people to come out of their offices and connect through something that we wouldn’t ordinarily connect through,” she said.
Mr Sherlock said there was uncertainty over when regular choirs could resume “but we certainly know that outside it’s a fairly safe thing if we keep safety in distance, and that’s why we (started this outdoor choir) – to bring a bit of joy and positive energy to the campus at a time when we really need it”.
“We have a lot of people not on campus – they’re working from home – but this was an invitation to our group of people who we’re connected to ‘Do you want to come outside and have a sing?’,” he said.
He said the regular choir would be reconvened “in some form next semester when things are safer for everyone”.