After a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic, the Bowdoin Chamber Choir will resume rehearsals and performances for the 2021-2022 academic year. Lecturer in Music Jeffrey Christmas will serve as the group’s new faculty organizer following the retirement of previous organizer Professor of Music Emeritus Robert Greenlee.
While Christmas has been teaching in the Bowdoin music department since 2015, this is his first time leading the College’s chamber choir. Under new leadership, all students—including returning members—were required to audition for a spot in the choir.
“There’s an added level that there [are] people who have been in chamber choir for a year and a half before, but now [they] have to audition again,” Christmas said. “That’s a little strange, [so] I tried to make it as low stakes as possible.”
Another significant change to the choir is its size. While there were 40 members of the choir prior to the pandemic, Christmas decided to downsize the group to 20 members for safety and stylistic reasons.
“It’s a lot easier to maintain space,” Christmas said. “Certainly, it seems logical and conclusive that in a smaller ensemble, with fewer people breathing, there’s less likelihood of transmission.”
Christmas added that decreasing the size of the choir will allow members to have more singing opportunities. Augie Segger ’23, a member of the chamber choir prior to the pandemic, agreed that a smaller choir will have many advantages.
“You can sing more challenging music,” Segger said.“You can do different stylistic things that might not be possible with a larger group.”
However, Segger acknowledged that a smaller choir also brings disadvantages, particularly for past members who may not be re-granted membership into the group.
“All of us have to re-audition, [and] there could be a lot of disappointment around that,” Segger said. “There are so many people on this campus, where singing is such a big part of their lives, and there is that possibility that the opportunity might not be there for them.”
Christmas also anticipates the uncertainty that has resulted from the pandemic. In addition to requiring choir members to wear masks during rehearsals for the foreseeable future, Christmas is still figuring out how the choir can take all necessary safety precautions.
“If that means making recordings, trying to do stuff digitally or figure out ways to do things outside, then I trust our ability to pivot if we need to,” Christmas said. “I’m trying not to let fear drive the bus.”
Aware of the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of his students, Christmas does not plan to rush into rehearsals. Rather, Christmas would like to acknowledge the group’s hiatus and support them in their healing process.
“There’s healing we have to do, for those of us who love to sing, we haven’t been able to do it,” Christmas said. “It’s been so strange for something that is important and joyful for so many of us to have been so dangerous in the last year and a half.”
Christmas said he also feels especially obligated to be mindful with his students and take the necessary time to build trust within the choir.
“I imagine once we really get going, it’ll be slow, and we’ll just have to return to feeling safe and trusting one another and being in a room and singing,” Christmas said. “And in the arts especially, where our feelings are so important, [this] feels relevant.”
Similar to Christmas, Segger views the revival of chamber choir as a cathartic experience, and he described the special connection that he imagines will rekindle within the group this year.
“I think [chamber choir] allows us to socialize in a very special way because a good choir has to do a lot of listening,” Segger said. “You do just as much listening as you do singing, and I think listening is sometimes a social skill that we forget to do.”