I am writing this blog post to capture a moment in time. A sort of diary so that hopefully I never forget (once things go back to normal again) how things were at one time. How things changed, and evolved into whatever they are going to become...
It is January 2021. The world is not as we know it. There is a pandemic going on. It has been going on since March 2020. That is 10 months without a live concert. For someone who would normally be performing several times a week, that is a very weird thing to experience. I have been on "standby" the whole year. Ready to go back to work. Maybe by next week, next month, by Christmas everything will go back to normal. But that never happened. When you are poised in one moment of time, waiting to go back to work, you can not commit yourself to any new projects (personal or professional) because you are never fully free and able to switch off.
And yet, amidst all this madness, during a severely restrictive lockdown in Belgium (whilst things are even stricter in the UK currently), Opera Ballet Vlaanderen were able to safely put together a physically distanced concert and live stream it.
There was hand sanitiser everywhere. They even gave each of us a bottle of the stuff so that any germs on our hands could be killed regularly. The orchestra were only permitted into the backstage areas of the opera house. The choir were only allowed into the audience areas of the opera house. This helped to space us out and prevent to many people in one area. We were all allocated specific seats that had been measured, for the choir at least 3 meters apart from the next person. We were given specific face masks that had been designed for singers, so that they would hold their shape when we inhaled. The masks were to catch any water droplets that might be emitted from our mouths while performing. You have to assume that anyone could be infected and shelter all individuals from each other.
We had designated "covid safety officers" who's entire purpose was to monitor that everyone was at all times at least 1.5m away from each other, and correctly following all the new rules. Safety first. You can see from the stills in this blog post, that these measures were in force. This was not our usual concert layout.
There was no audience in the room. It is not permitted. Unless it is your job and you are being paid, you were not allowed to even enter the building. Instead for a small fee of 10 euros, you could buy a ticket to the concert and watch it from the comfort of your own home. This meant that the choir had to clap after each piece, and even clap after their own singing. It is very strange to perform a piece of music and to be greeted by silence afterwards. Very strange.
Despite all this, we triumphed in putting together the first concert of 2021. We hope for many more, and pray that one day we will laugh when we think back to this time; the lessons we learned, and the gratitude for those lessons.
Jennifer Coleman - is a classical / opera singer, and vocal coach, performing across the UK and internationally.