Master Chorale Offers a Virtual Season of Song

August 19, 2020 | By Kurt Loft

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An earlier Master Chorale of Tampa Bay rehearsal at USF Choral Rehearsal Hall

Concert halls everywhere remain quiet and musicians crave a return to the stages they call home. No one knows how long the viral shutdown will last or whether their fragile livelihoods will disappear.

However grim it may seem in the midst of a pandemic, Brett Karlin is optimistic. Many arts groups will fade away, but his Master Chorale of Tampa Bay won’t be one of them. He sees this not as a time of frustration but of inspiration.

“The need and desire for music doesn’t go away because of the coronavirus,’’ he says. “In fact, it increases.’’

So, the 150-member chorus is embracing the world – literally. While the shutdown means they can’t plan a season around concerts with live audiences, they can use social media and video technology to conduct auditions, do virtual concerts and workshops and reach a global audience.

Singers who want to join the choir – now in its 42nd season – can do so via Zoom, and upload audio submissions on YouTube and other media. Those singers don’t even need to live in the area – while rehearsals are online, the group has the potential to become a virtual, international choir with no limit on the number of people involved.

The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay with Artistic Director Brett Karlin conducting Awake and Sing at Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church in 2018

“If we decide to look at this situation positively, anyone can join us because residence in Tampa Bay is no longer required while we’re producing digital programming,’’ Karlin explains. “We’re thinking that the Master Chorale can actually incorporate singers from all over the world. So, there are some unique aspects of this that might even continue post-COVID.’’

Choruses need to be especially diligent about rehearsing and performing live, because ensemble singing is a high-risk activity right now, says Kara Dwyer, the group’s managing director. So the board and staff planned a season that “continues our mission-driven programming with careful cost control and innovation.’’

When and if things get back to normal is anyone’s guess, but the chorus can’t afford to wait for that to happen. People need the arts back in their lives and groups like the Master Chorale have to adapt and adjust as part of their mission. For Karlin, it’s all about perspective.

“I desperately miss making music live and in person, and nothing that can replace a live choral sound,’’ he says. “But I see this as our intermission, and it’s important to reflect on the time we’re going though right now. All this will make us appreciate things so much more.’’

The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay performing Brahms’ Requiem with The Florida Orchestra, Michael Francis conducting, at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Photo by JM Lennon.

Some of this season’s offerings include:

  • “Measure by Measure,’’ a series of monthly virtual concerts that include pieces from the group’s archive, streamed on the last Sunday of each month at 4 p.m.
  • Virtual choirs that align the chorus with a recording and production company to produce top-tier projects throughout the season. 
  • Online rehearsals that begin September 8 using the Zoom video conferencing platform.  The rehearsals will prepare for formal presentations, including a production of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with The Florida Orchestra.
  • Digital Youth Initiative programs that bring together music supervisors and teachers from Pinellas and Hillsborough County Public Schools to create and curate new pre-produced and live video lessons. The program is designed to align with Florida Music Education Standards and support our local primary and secondary public school choral music curriculum throughout the academic year. 

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