The fact that the National Boys Choir of Australia was founded 56 years ago says a lot about its resilience and relevance. In 2020, the NBCA has faced its biggest challenge to date – the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the NBCA has found a way to continue its education offering and is keeping choristers across all choirs engaged during a challenging academic year. It’s all about the online learning space: virtual ‘rehearsal rooms’ are the NBCA’s temporary new normal.
In the Performing Choir, choristers are engaged despite a week of home-schooling via Zoom. According to Mr Andrew Bainbridge, the NBCA has ‘sweetened’ weekly rehearsals with challenges, games and prizes. “The boys have been very creative on costume nights and in their posts on [their] chat feed,” he says. Mr Philip Carmody emphasises the importance of technology this year. “We are using video clips in rehearsal. Boys can see and hear their singing part without the need for finding and following hard copies of the score, and with the teacher free to see and hear how the boys are going as the video plays.” While both artistic directors acknowledge the challenges of a choir not singing physically together, Mr Bainbridge believes the choristers’ dedication shines through. “Attendance has been remarkably good, and I think it’s a tribute to the Choir that the boys and their families want to remain part of the organisation.” Choristers have embraced the virtual rehearsals, as the online world is their natural environment. “Kids are malleable and adaptable,” Mr Carmody confirms. “The challenge is to be as on top of the technology as they are.” While choristers are naturals when it comes to technology, they miss the in-person connections as Natsuki reveals: “It’s been strange not standing next to my friends every Friday at choir.” Liam, another Performing chorister, agrees. “I really miss not being at choir itself. I miss not being able to hear others singing around me.” Choristers miss being with their choir friends, but they’re seeing a virtual rehearsal experience as a new learning; like Eamon. “It’s a new experience for me which is always good, and it’s fun online with all the challenges for the rehearsals and everything.” Robin also enjoys the new temporary format. “I like how there are themes to each lesson. How we’re given objectives to complete, as well.”
When it comes to the NBCA’s Elementary and Junior choirs, Ms Mandy Brook, Mrs Iris Zavou and Mr Ben Taylor have also embraced the opportunities in this new teaching environment. “We are proud that we have been able to adapt and learn new programs and software to teach the choristers,” the artistic team confirms. “We have had to be mindful that normal visual cues that we utilise in a choir might not have the same adaptability in an online rehearsal and language and instructions have been adjusted to better suit this space.” And, what are the gains for these younger choristers? “While there have been challenges learning to navigate new platforms and resource creation, the boys have ended up with far more resources to enable them to continue practising and developing their vocal skills during remote learning,” the team says. “We are extremely grateful and proud of their hard work and adaptability to new lesson delivery methods, and that we can continue to inspire and educate the choristers on their musical journey through remote learning.”