By GLORIA STRAVELLI
Members of the Rise Up Chorus are rejoicing about being able to sing together in person once again after being limited to singing virtually over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was just a glorious experience really, it was so uplifting,” chorus member Maria Balboa said about the first in-person – and outdoor – chorus rehearsal in more than a year. “It was a really special rehearsal because we had been virtual for over a year now.
“To have the opportunity just to see people again, be in person, sing together, hear somebody else’s voice with your voice … it was really great to get that back.”
An inclusive, multigenerational chorus now in its fourth season, Rise Up Chorus has performed a wide range of choral music at venues throughout the region and consists of both an adult and youth chorus whose members hail from towns throughout Middlesex County – including Metuchen, East Brunswick, Iselin, Edison, Sayreville, Old Bridge, Highland Park, Monroe and Plainsboro – as well as from out of state, LaPine said.
“It felt like a family reunion,” he said. “When we all finally got together in person for the first time in over 13 months, we all felt a bit of relief. I started to feel as if we’re finally starting to get our lives back to normal again and it felt great.”
With public health conditions relating to COVID-19 improving and the easing of some restrictions, it has become possible to return to in-person singing with safety protocols in place, LaPine said, but a new rehearsal space was needed to allow for social distancing, ideally an outdoor space.
“We rehearse at St. Luke’s in Metuchen in their auditorium,” he said. “We work with a lot of adults and some of them were nervous about coming back to sing in person, so we wanted to find an outdoor venue.
“Finding a place in Metuchen that had a few of the things that we required was difficult. We needed an outdoor space and we also needed an electrical hookup. And the other piece was that we needed somewhere that had some kind of illumination.”
With the support of the borough and the operator, the Pearl Street Parking Deck in Metuchen was made available for chorus rehearsals, and after a year-long hiatus, they resumed on April 23.
According to LaPine, the parking deck meets all the necessary criteria.
“The benefit of the parking garage,” LaPine explained, “is it is designed to maximize airflow, so for us, understanding that COVID-19 is an aerosol-transmitted virus, we know that having that significant amount of airflow just makes us safer.
“The parking deck is great because electricity is available for the piano and the microphone,” he said. “The neat thing about parking decks is they are designed to have maximum airflow. So we have a very safe location for our rehearsals.”
Importantly, there is ample room for social distancing.
“We can easily fit 25 to 30 people socially distanced just in one corner of the parking deck,” he said. “And there are three walls that are completely open. We put cones out so no cars can come through. This is very exciting to us.”
Those who aren’t yet comfortable with in-person singing can log onto the livestream and still participate in the rehearsal, LaPine added.
Among the provisos, masks must be work at all times and copies of music may not be shared.
LaPine announced the news in a video on the chorus website, riseupchorus.org
“We are returning to in-person singing after just over a year of being completely virtual,” he said. “We are so excited to gather together again to return to singing in person.”
In addition to LaPine, the Rise Up Chorus artistic team includes Helen Kernizan, Youth Chorus director; and Thomas DeLessio, collaborative pianist.
According to LaPine, the chorus, which is tuition-free, presents three major “cornerstone” concerts each season in addition to smaller performances at various venues. Styles of music “range from classical to Broadway and anything in between,” he said.
“There are no audition requirements. Anyone can join – an adult who’s never sung before can come and sing alongside people who have been singing for years, and we have that.
“For our adult chorus we have some high school-age students that sing with us and then people in their 20s and 30s and 40s and 50s all the way up to the 80s. We have literally every generation in our adult chorus.”
What’s more, according to LaPine, Rise Up Chorus isn’t just about singing together, it is a social experience as well and there are many communal activities including potluck suppers, caroling, marching in the Metuchen Memorial Day Parade and performing the national anthem prior to baseball games.
“Yes, it really is a community,” Balboa said. “And I do think that Rise Up is special in that way because … Rise Up has always made it a point to emphasize the importance of community.
“I always felt that from the beginning, but this year I really felt it because we were challenged in another way and the leaders of Rise Up Chorus made sure we stayed connected week after week. We did not miss a rehearsal, didn’t miss a beat.
“I have heard other members say that our weekly virtual sessions meant so much to them because it was a way we could still connect. The fact that we still had people come to the (virtual) rehearsal … really showed me that our connection, though we came together through music, it’s not about music, it’s about our community and the people. It was nice to see that,” she said.
“We never stopped meeting,” LaPine added. “We only missed one rehearsal because of COVID. We have been meeting online every single week with our members. We didn’t miss anything.
“I know for all of us, we have been working on this for over a year now. We are so excited that it can finally come back to being in person again,” he said.
For LaPine and the Rise Up Chorus team, the chorus is at heart a community.
“It’s about our community,” LaPine said. “Don’t get me wrong, the concerts are important, … but it’s not about the performances. It’s really about the community that’s built through the music-making process. And that really is our mission statement.
“Every decision we make, every time, we go back to that – is this for the community? “Does this further our mission of building community through singing? And if it does, then we do it,” he said.