Last March, choral singing was among the many group activities that were rendered out of the question due to social distancing and room occupancy limits brought on by the pandemic.
Abigail Chandler, the director of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Minnesingers — a nationally recognized choral group — said she is excited to be planning for some in-person events, and providing both performers and audience members with a little dose of normalcy.
“When everything shut down last year, and the first thing that was labeled very high risk was choral singing, that was kind of the death knell for us being able to sing together in-person,” Chandler said.
Although the Minnesingers were able to pull together and perform some heavily adapted shows, Chandler stressed that it’s impossible to replace the closeness of in-person rehearsals and the delight of live performances with something you see on a screen. “My whole focus this past year has just been to provide the kids with something to look forward to, something to give them some light and positivity,” she said.
The Minnesingers were able to perform at high school graduation last summer, but the lead-up to that event was filled with outdoor rehearsals (wearing masks), with singers spaced 10 feet apart.
In a show of ingenuity and perseverance, the choral group was able to present a winter concert of “It’s a Wonderful Life” in collaboration with the theater group at the high school. The performers filmed the show in segments on Zoom, and edited it into one seamless show that was broadcast at the YMCA Drive-In, and made available online for people to watch. “We filmed that all through Zoom; it was sort of the radio-show version. It was a really lovely thing that we were able to do,” Chandler said, “but it was not a live performance, which is what everybody has been really missing.”
After so much time spent finding alternative ways of rehearsing and putting on great shows for the Island community, Chandler said, she is looking forward to the upcoming spring concert.
The Minnesingers started rehearsing for the show in September (about a month later than they normally would).nce health guidelines loosened and Chandler got the green light to allow singers to begin rehearsing inside again, she said, “That was really what got things going, and kick-started the whole plan.”
She said coordinating an indoor performance would still be challenging, so she reached out to staff at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, who graciously agreed to let them use the venue.
The spring concerts, known more classically as the Mother’s Day Weekend shows (which the Minnesingers have been doing for more than three decades), are now on tap for May 7 at 6:30 pm, and May 8 at 4 pm.
The truncated and adapted performance will include dancing, although much of the choreography will have to be altered to accommodate distancing requirements. Admission will be limited according to occupancy limits for outdoor events.
A Memorial Day performance at the Tabernacle is also in the works, although the theme and logistics of that are yet to be announced.
For Chandler, working with her Minnesingers has provided a source of much-needed stability and normalcy during a tumultuous time for all members of the performing arts community. “The kids have been amazing — they have showed up week after week, and have been so hardworking and flexible. For me, it’s really been the thing that has sustained me through all this, and I know that a lot of the kids have expressed the same feelings,” Chandler said.
Although the Minnesingers were considering a donation-only show, the normal fundraising opportunities that would normally fund their European tours, which provide unique and treasured experiences to performers, were made unworkable due to COVID. “We were supposed to be in Europe right now,” Chandler said. “We are looking to travel to Austria in 2022, and it’s been difficult trying to afford the trip so that everyone gets that wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Chandler said the Minnesingers will be performing at high school graduation again this year, with some outgoing seniors performing songs, then having the whole group plus the chorus come together for a finale.
One of the central goals of formulating a workable performance schedule for Chandler is supporting the seniors, who have had much of their live-performance opportunities stripped away, and have seldom had the opportunity to spend quality time with friends, peers, and mentors.
“Those kids say this is a second family, it is being around other people that love something as much as you do, which is coming together and singing choral music together. It’s sort of an obscure thing, but it is also such a human thing — It’s one of the most fundamental coming-togethers of humans, and has been for millennia,” she said.
See more information about upcoming Minnesingers events on their brand-new website.