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They Paved Paradise and put up a Parking Garage

Barbara Hill, soprano

As we enter into May and Summer beckons us out of doors, I can’t help but think back on our first Pandemic summer and my introduction to Ensemble Altera. At a time when our inboxes were full of (understandable) cancellations, closures and endings, Chris wrote inviting me to join Ensemble Altera to rehearse and sing in a parking garage.

This most unlikely of places became a sanctuary of sorts for we singers. A safe place where we could trust in the adherence to the protocols in place to keep us healthy, and where we could hear our voices blend and resonate in an acoustic, not unlike the churches where we’ve all spent countless happy hours rehearsing and performing over the years.

That last bit is huge. So much of our time as singers during this pandemic has been spent recording our parts alone, in the quietest, driest acoustic we could find (so that sound engineers could then add an artificial acoustic back in). We did take after take, in silent isolation, devoid of each other’s breath, missing the 3-second reverb of our favorite venue, and the comfort of a sectional blend, feeling like every tiny imperfection was being amplified by the entirely-too-close microphone, captured for posterity, for all to hear at the click of a play button. I am forever grateful to all of the groups I’ve worked with during this pandemic, in whatever way we managed to still make music, together or apart. I am inspired by all of the ways various folks have worked to innovate in this time when the thing we love most was labeled most dangerous. But, to be able to stand, even 6+ feet apart, and sing with other people, that you can see and hear, in a space that reverberates with your footsteps, water bottles and final notes… it is an ineffable joy.

As Joni Mitchell wrote, and I will be singing on our upcoming Earth Day livestream, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. We took for granted our scheduling emails, carpools, rehearsal breaks, downbeats, staggered breathing, sectionals, interval tuning, post-concert hangs, and all that which is choir life, and were (still are) bereft when that all came to an abrupt halt.

Ensemble Altera, with Christopher Lowrey at its helm, has found a way throughout this time to find sanctuaries for our voices, as well as our hearts, and has allowed you, our audience, to find and join us in our joy from the safety of your own homes, and hopefully, this summer, in a safe, distanced, but live outdoor performance as we remember those whose voices were lost to COVID-19. I hope we will be able to gather together then, and for many years to come.

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