By Tim Stacey
Any other year, the arrival of spring would signify the end of another concert season. Most choirs would be preparing for final performances, perhaps with repertoire selected for its relevance to the season. Otherwise, the weather wouldn't have much to do with your choral activities.
This year, however, warm weather brings the opportunity for you and your choir to once again get together in person. After what has certainly been a long winter cooped up indoors and meeting on Zoom, you may now be exploring opportunities to rehearse and perform in the great outdoors.
That said, planning an outdoor rehearsal is a little more complicated than one might first assume. There is a lot to consider, and only so many spaces will meet your choir’s needs.
Our choir, Avanti Chamber Singers, had some success getting together in outdoor spaces back in the fall. We learned a great deal through the experience and are pleased to share the following tips as you plan your own outdoor rehearsals.
How To Choose An Outdoor Rehearsal Space
1. Space: The most obvious consideration in selecting an outdoor rehearsal venue is space. You need to know how many choristers will attend, while also factoring in at least six feet of space between each of them. However, keep in mind that you can group together those that are in a “bubble” — couples and roommates will reduce the amount of space you need.
2. Amplification: It is much more difficult for choristers to hear one another (or hear their conductor speaking) when rehearsing outdoors. The combination of masks with the distance from the conductor to the back row makes it challenging to communicate effectively. For this reason, the conductor will need some form of amplification, whether it’s a bullhorn or a microphone and speaker system.
The same is true for the accompanist, if your repertoire requires one. Fortunately, it is not too difficult to run a microphone and keyboard through the same speaker system.
Keep in mind that all of this will depend on whether there is access to an outlet or two. Be sure to check ahead of time, and bring an extension cord and power bar with you.
3. Lighting: Unless your choir is rehearsing during the day, sufficient lighting will be a challenge. While you can rely on natural lighting well into the summer, from August onward, the sun will set sooner and sooner each day. Your choir will therefore need to invest in reading lights.
4. Amenities: Be sure to check whether you will have access to restrooms or not, and inform your members so they can plan ahead.
Once you’ve found a space that checks all the right boxes, don’t hesitate to book it! These types of spaces will be in high demand for as long as the pandemic continues, both for choirs and other organizations that would normally meet indoors.
Recommended Venues For Outdoor Rehearsals
1. Parking Garages: Avanti Chamber Singers hosted a number of rehearsals last fall in a local parking garage. It provided reliable lighting, plenty of space, and even an acoustically favorable setting for rehearsal.
Finding an available parking garage may be a challenge, however, particularly with respect to noise in the surrounding area. We were fortunate in that the business in question had closed down due to the pandemic, and did not need their facilities.
2. Bandstands: Rehearsing under a bandshell has the benefit of acoustically supporting your choir while still being outdoors. If you want to reserve a venue like this, however, you need to move quickly. Choirs, wind bands, and virtually all other types of performing groups will be pursuing spaces like this.
3. Public Parks: What a public park lacks in infrastructure and amenities, it likely makes up for in availability. Easy access and ample space also give you the option of promoting it as an open rehearsal, letting you and your choristers connect with your audience in person for the first time in months.
4. Private Property: Don’t forget to check with your choir members about the potential of hosting a rehearsal on their property. A large back yard or home in the country can provide a workable venue for which you won’t have to compete with other groups to book.
COVID-19 Considerations For Your Outdoor Rehearsal
You will need to guide and assist you choristers in navigating this new rehearsal setting safely. Avanti Chamber Singers implemented the following controls, based on our research — be sure to consult and comply with your provincial and regional guidelines:
As with all types of activities you will plan during the remainder of the pandemic, err on the side of caution, and be prepared for last-minute changes. By now we are all well aware that lockdown orders and safety guidelines can change with only a few days notice, so keep that in mind as you take advantage of the warmer weather.
Best of luck with your planning over the coming months! Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions about our experience with outdoor rehearsals.
Tim Stacey is a tenor, and Marketing & Media Coordinator for Avanti Chamber Singers. Avanti Chamber Singers is a community chamber choir currently under the direction of Artistic Director, Dr. Rachel Rensink-Hoff, based out of St. Catharines, ON.
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