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‘We’re back, baby’: Community choirs singing again after pause of more than 2 years

As she takes her seat next to her fellow Cornwall Community Choir members — minutes before their first rehearsal in two and a half years — Johanne Gass is having a tough time staying composed. 

“I hope I can hold it together,” she said. “I feel very emotional and happy, finally getting back together.”

The last time the group sang together was March 2020. They were preparing for a concert at a retirement home in nearby Clyde River, P.E.I. 

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The concert was cancelled. The choir stopped singing. 

What followed was two and a half years of ever-changing gathering limits, mask rules, and COVID-19 case counts that didn’t leave much of an opening for choirs to rehearse or perform. 

Some P.E.I. community choirs, including the one in Cornwall, held off altogether. 

Johanne Gass, a member of the Cornwall Community Choir, said she felt emotional singing with the group for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down rehearsals. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“I was lost. It’s like, ‘What do we do? How are we going to spend our time?'” said Gass. “But I was very understanding.  It’s an older group, and nobody wants to be sick.  Nobody wants to put anybody in danger.”

‘Sense of normalcy’ 

But with COVID-19 booster shots rolling out on P.E.I., and most restrictions gone, choir organizers decided now was the time to get back to singing. 

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison “has made it so that we can, and not be too nervous,” said Nancy Jack, an organizer and member of the Cornwall Community Choir. “We’re careful with our own health and feel pretty good about it.”

“I feel a lot of joy,” added Gass. “It’s time to get living our lives again.”

Some choirs have continued singing and performing in some capacity over the past two years, but it hasn’t been easy. 

Margot Rejskind directs a few choirs on P.E.I. While they continued rehearsing and performing in some capacity over the past two years, she said it was challenging dealing with ever-changing restrictions and masking rules. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“My choirs got going fairly early in the pandemic, but we were very far apart,” said Margot Rejskind, who directs a few different Island groups.

“We were masked. In some cases… we could only have 50 people in the audience, and they took up a whole church, and we took up the whole front of the church because we had to be six feet apart.”

We can have full audiences again. We don’t have to count them. We don’t have to get their contact information. They can just come and enjoy.– Margot Rejskind

As she now gets going with fall rehearsals,  Rejskind said there’s “more of a sense of normalcy.”

“Nobody likes to sing in a mask. So that is an option now,” she said. “We can have full audiences again. We don’t have to count them. We don’t have to get their contact information. They can just come and enjoy.

“So this is feeling like ‘We’re back, baby!'”

Organizers of Cornwall’s Community Choir say they weren’t comfortable rehearsing until now, especially given many of the members are older and might be more susceptible to COVID-19. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Rejskind said she’s well aware there’s still the potential for COVID-19 to spoil some of their rehearsal and performance plans, and mandatory masking may return at some point. 

“But I guess what I’ve learned personally is to try not to sweat the small stuff. What is it we do? We come together to sing. And when it’s working well, we also come together to sing and share that with an audience.  And if we only get to do some of that, that’s okay.  And if we get to do all of it, fantastic.”

Members of the Cornwall Community Choir are taking a similar approach. They’ve already scheduled performances at retirement and nursing homes for this fall. 

“Oh you’ve got to have hope, and I think we’re going to do it,” said Gass. “When you see how much the seniors love it, and how much they respond to it, it’s a really good feeling.”

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