Whether you’re a singer or instrumentalist, opportunities for making music are still limited. Lockdown may have eased, but in this, little has changed. You can practise on your own of course, (subject to your neighbours) but that soon palls. If other people in your household are also musicians, that’s good. However it’s a fortunate home that has a perfect line-up and sufficient material.

In theory, playing together online sounds a perfect solution. Find a video chat service of your choice, select the music, and off you go. The theory falls down almost immediately. Playing (or singing) music together demands synchronicity, that is keeping in perfect time. As soon as that fails, hesitation sets in. Am I ahead? Behind?  The whole ‘what’s happening?’ element destroys everything.

Micro-second lags from the travelling computer code first, and then our responses, make that much difference. Don’t be fooled by the many (amazing) lockdown performances out there. Click tapes (a metronome, in effect) and audio editing programs can produce wonders. I find myself fascinated by both the ingenuity and weirdness of these productions.

So what alternatives are around? There are plenty. Here’s something cooked up by Midlands Early Music Forum (MEMF) and Robin Hollingworth of singing group, I Fagiolini.

MEMF

memf banner
MEMF banner from the website

Maybe you’re wondering what ‘early music’ is. There’s no fixed definition, so here’s my version. It’s generally taken as being part of western classical music, though there can be folk/traditional music strands and elements of world music. What’s ‘early’ about it? Simply the way it travels further back in time. For many listeners, classical music stops around the time of JS Bach in the early eighteenth century. For me and other early music lovers, the time machine can continue going backwards until about the time of the Norman conquest. Give this a listen:

MEMF is one of several groupings across the country which exist to involve people in early music. Their programme is to run 9 or 10 workshops a year, inviting participants to join leading musicians and scholars to study, play, and get pleasure from one or more pieces of music. Singers get the biggest bite of the cherry because that’s the way things are. However my experience of days when we instrumentalists join in the fun are highlights of my musical calendar.

Here’s a commercial recording of the kind of thing we get to play and sing:

Sing the score

So, the question was how to mirror this experience in miniature. Discussions between MEMF and Robin Hollingworth, a regular study day leader, came up with this solution. Every two or three weeks, a new video under the hashtag SingTheScore is released. (You can find these videos on I Fagiolini’s YouTube channel.)

First, Robin discusses the music’s context; next, he demonstrates any musical features worth listening out for, and warns of potential pitfalls. Then it’s over to the singers. What you see is a score on screen but there’s also a soundtrack. This means that although you’ll be singing on your own, there’s a choir already there, waiting for you to join in. Whether this is preferable to some kind of virtual mass singalong is probably a matter of personal preference.

MEMF arranges a day and time for these sessions so they’re kind of a group sing for members but not quite. That togetherness is reinforced by a group chat afterwards, providing a chance to catch up, ask Robin questions, and meet the occasional special guest. After all, being social and keeping connected is an important part of any music gathering.

To finish, here’s one of the complete videos to give you an idea of the full thing: