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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Singer

During the horror that was Covid "Lockdown", when singing with others seemed to become one of the Deadly Sins, many of us found ourselves turning to "virtual singing" projects as a means of staying relatively sane and keeping the vocal cords exercised. Throughout that awful time, I wrote a blog so that I would always remember what it felt like to be confined and unable to perform to audiences or just sing with friends. The following is just an extract.

In all of this we must acknowledge and give thanks for the incredible commitment of Music Directors everywhere who kept their choirs going with projects like this and who had to become overnight sound engineering wizards, music technology experts and film editors, mixing and producing some amazing-sounding virtual recordings which, in my case, undoubtedly kept me sane through lockdown.

And for our part, we had to turn our living rooms, bedrooms or downstairs loos into makeshift recording studios with or without the all-important sound-proofing.

One such project was our Director Simon's recording of the beautiful Missa Brevis by Lotti.

21st January 2021 - Lotti Missa Brevis

I’ve just climbed on a chair and then on to my slippery granite worktop to reach the kitchen clock to remove the battery to stop it ticking. It’s too cold to go into the garage to get the step-ladder, so the chair will have to do, but I’m mindful of the fact that I could easily fall off the chair and end up in A&E, increasing the pressure on an overstretched NHS. I’m already feeling guilty. It’s -2°c this evening and I’m about to make myself really unpopular by turning the heating off because the boiler makes a deep

growling noise when it’s on. I’ve got to turn the fridge-freezer off too, so I’m risking my ice-trays melting which would be catastrophic for my nightly lockdown G&T. But the freezer randomly makes a dripping noise and the fridge emits a constant, low-pitch humming, which I’d strangely never noticed until now. So, heating off, fridge-freezer off, no ticking clock…

The music stand is set up and the music printed off but with annoyingly faint print, almost impossible to decipher – my printer has been flash

ing a low-ink warning for over a month now but thanks to “Brexit related issues” UPS have been unable to deliver my ink ordered at the beginning of January and it now languishes in the Netherlands apparently. I’ve managed to ink-in the missing notes using the PDF sent by Simon with the audio track.

So, I’m all set. I find the audio file on my PC and plug in my headphones. I check the volume level before turning on the Voice Recorder on my iPhone. I press play on the audio track. I press record on my iPhone. Here we go….

The dishwasher starts churning. I hadn’t noticed that it had been set off by an overly conscientious husband while I was faffing about with the headphones and now I’ve got to wait for forty-five minutes until it’s finished its cycle. Or should I go rogue and just switch it off? Better not. There’s already been much complaining about the heating being switched off. So I turn the heating back on, the fridge-freezer back on and wait forty-five minutes for the dishwasher to complete its noisy cycle.

Forty-five minutes and a glass of red wine or two later, I’m all set. I switch off the heating and the fridge freezer, I put my headphones on. I press play on the audio track. I press record on my iPhone. I start to sing the soprano line from Lotti’s ‘Gloria’ from his Missa Brevis. I’m annoyed at my poor breathing. I’m sure it was better forty-five minutes ago when I was properly warmed up. I forgot to mention I actually warmed up for this.

I think, keep going and at least lay down one recording and treat it as a trial run. I get to the end and play it back through my Bluetooth speaker. Absolutely dreadful. Raspy breathing in the wrong places. Incorrect rhythm. Non-existent dynamics. Unpleasant tone. Is THAT what I really sound like?

I re-wind the audio track. I replay the Gloria from the start. I press record on my iPhone. The sound of Lotti’s Gloria broadcasts at deafeningly high volume in my kitchen from my Bluetooth speaker. I’d forgotten to switch the Sound Preferences on my PC from speaker to headphones.

I re-wind. I replay through the headphones. I press record. I start singing the soprano line. All is going well. I get to the end of the ‘Domine Fili unigenite Iesu Christe’ in one breath. I remembered the B natural in bar 26. I’m halfway through and I’m cooking on gas.

It starts hailing. Really heavy, icy hail on the glass lantern roof of my kitchen. I listen back, just to check if the hail is audible and it sounds like someone is dropping an assortment of cutlery on to a metal surface. And… I notice the distant barking of a dog. My recording is ruined.

I wait for the hail to stop, taking the opportunity to have another glass of red wine and catch-up on an episode of Landscape Artist of the Year, feeling creatively inadequate. The hail stops and I hastily reconvene in my makeshift kitchen-recording-studio.

The first six or seven attempts are discarded and deleted. The next three or four are pants but are put ‘on reserve’. My vocal warm-up is now a distant memory but I am determined to get a recording done tonight. I am freezing and I have no idea what time it is. I’d forgotten to turn the heating back on. I didn’t replace the clock battery. My fridge-freezer has now been off for over an hour. I suddenly realise that my family has gone to bed, having previously been warned on pain of death to stay away from the kitchen until I’d finished my recording but at least I now have the quiet I require.

I make another recording. It’s OK, not great, but it will do as it’s the best of a bad bunch. Maybe one more for luck….?

I’m recording, it’s going really well. I’m getting excited. This is the best one EVER!! I’m nearly there. “Cum Sancto Spiritu, in gloria Dei Patris…”. Husband comes into the kitchen for a glass of water and says: “God, it’s freezing in here”.

My best recording is ruined. (Expletive Deleted).

I send the ‘OK’ recording to Simon and go to bed feeling a failure.

In the morning, my freezer has defrosted and our milk is off.

22nd January 2021

I’m so looking forward to recording Lotti’s Agnus Dei. I don’t know what I’d do without Virtual Singing during lockdown. It’s the only thing keeping me going.


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