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Music, Motivation and Mobile phones

Our friends at Holy Trinity Church, Geneva share this story on their musical response to the Pandemic.

Be it bustling theatres, musical festivals, sung worship, orchestral recitals or beautiful choral acoustics, music and arts for many has been merely a memory during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Despite this, musical life and choral family have continued to thrive at Holy Trinity Church, Geneva - albeit under difficult circumstances.

“The covid-19 pandemic, with attendant restrictions and lockdowns, has posed challenges that need to be met with a strong sense of community, if not of family…”, Phillip, one choir member said.

Music at Holy Trinity Church, Geneva (HTC) has gone beyond making beautiful choral music which lives up to their legacy, but has created a sense of family community in the midst of these strange times.

There has long been a tradition of musical excellence at Holy Trinity. Today, the Director of Music is Mark Charles. The work of the robed choir at HTC is well-recognized locally. It has also been ‘choir in residence’ at Worcester and Chichester Cathedrals. Following in the footsteps of a long line of notable predecessors, Mark has taken the music to new heights.

Holy Trinity’s response has been to operate as a virtual choir in which individuals participate and come together digitally, which has required the choirs to learn new skills in music-making. Phillip says, “This has required great dedication and perseverance by choir members, and in particular the musical talent and vision of our music director Mark, with a huge investment of his time and effort in planning and execution – not to mention more than usual forbearance and sense of humour on his part!”

In-church services not being possible, everything has gone on-line. Every Sunday morning, for the virtual Eucharist, members of the choir sing psalms, mass settings and an anthem. These are prepared using a click-track which singers work with at home, eventually videoing themselves singing on their mobile phones, then sending these stems to Mark who mixes them together.

“Setting off, videoing and recording myself, then listening back was daunting to start with… many discarded attempts!  A  particular hazard is my dog barking in the middle of my best attempt, rendering it useless!”, says Mary, another choir member. “But, it becomes more familiar. It is an excellent way to learn the parts and is fun to see how the finished product turns out.  Unlike real life, you can record yourself singing two or more parts… Thanks to Mark for his skill and making this happen for us.’”

Normally, up to forty-five singers come together weekly (at the moment, virtually) to rehearse music for the liturgy. They represent ten nationalities, and with an age range of 16 to 93, the singers come from all walks of life.

The choir is supported by two choral scholars and by Max Bauer, our current organ scholar, from Germany, on an Erasmus exchange program studying organ and choral conducting at Lausanne Haute Ecole de Musique.

There is also a thriving Junior Choir, directed by Claire Charles, which normally rehearses weekly and which sings for the community at least once a month. Twenty young singers aged 5-18 regularly sing together, drawing singers from Junior Church and beyond.

Emma says, “The Junior Choir brings together children of different ages.” Something particularly important in this season. The Junior choir have also enjoyed the community and new musical skills they have learnt during the time of virtual choir. 

“I like the variety of music and the opportunity to sing different parts.” Says Samriddh, a member of the Junior Choir. Emmuah also enjoys the different warm-ups and the repertoire of songs which they sing.

The Junior Choir, created in 1992, was originally directed by the late Lindy Carmalt. It was she that established the strong tradition of singing amongst the younger members of the Genevan community. Claire Charles took over the choir in 2018 and has developed it further, expanding the repertoire and drawing in other young singers.

Reflecting the diversity of the congregation, Holy Trinity Church’s Youth Leader, Armel Ayegnon, is an accomplished kora-player. Often playing for informal services, the sound of the kora is particularly lovely for reflection in prayer.

The Junior choir responded enthusiastically to the ‘What Easter Means to Me’ initiative among the Young People's Ministry network of the Diocese, with a recording of In the Bulb there is a Flower by Nathalie Sleeth.

To date, around 60 anthems have been recorded and many can be enjoyed on YouTube. Particularly memorable are: The Hereford Carol where the choir was joined by virtual singers from across the Archdeaconry; Once in Royal David’s City sung virtually by the choirs and congregation for the Christmas Carol Service and Stanford’s Nunc Dimittis in A recorded for an on-line Evensong. Most ambitious so far is Allegri’s Miserere which was sung for Ash Wednesday and involved twenty-one separate videos.

Music at HTC is incredibly important as a means of elevating the Liturgy. As HTC moves forward following the arrival its new chaplain, The Revd Canon Daphne Green, the Church is looking to continue its fine tradition of music. Their aim to increase the diversity of musical offerings, maintaining the quality and expanding the remit to include even more musicians, aiming always to make everything they do a sincere offering to the Glory of God.

Despite covid-19, “the music has indeed come together, and importantly the choir itself has stayed together as a (socially distanced) community.  And more than that, we have even welcomed some new, virtual choir members, who live in both near- and far-flung places.”, says Phillip. “Out of the rigors of the pandemic has thus come growth, in both music and the choir’s sense of community, as it continues to offer up music in the worship of God.”

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You can find out more about HTC Geneva on their website and Facebook

Photos:  Holy Trinity Geneva