After being almost completely silenced by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Monmouth County’s Arcadian Chorale is preparing to return in December with in-person performances on Staten Island, N.Y., and in Freehold Borough.
The chorale will present “A Glorious Dawn,” a musical ensemble which symbolizes the emergence from darkness into light after a period of seemingly endless setbacks and challenges.
On Dec. 11 at 8 p.m., the Arcadian Chorale will perform on Staten Island at the Church of St. Clare.
On Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m., the Arcadian Chorale will perform at St. Rose of Lima Church in Freehold Borough.
For nearly a year as the coronavirus pandemic overtook New Jersey and uncertainty and fear took center stage, the chorale took a backseat. As mandates and restrictions were implemented in an effort to stop the disease from spreading, cultural events and programs were canceled.
In an interview, Marina Alexander, the chorale’s musical director, explained the origins of the group, its struggle during the height of the pandemic and how its members managed to sing again.
Alexander founded the Arcadian Chorale in 1992 and volunteers brought their talents to the new organization. The purpose was to allow area residents to share a collective voice for the world to hear.
For 29 years the chorale did that, while performing at venues including New York City’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.
However, after all those years of performing, the chorale’s majestic voices were silenced by the pandemic. For months everything was quiet as health and safety protocols were implemented and priorities other than singing took center stage.
David Ripple, a 10-year member of the Arcadian Chorale, said the inability to socialize presented the most significant challenge for the group.
“The biggest challenge, of course, was not being able to meet in person every Tuesday night for our typical two-hour rehearsals.
“The chorale is very social and rehearsals set the stage for a lot of camaraderie, fellowship and good natured banter.
“Not being able to sing as a group live was very disheartening. Churches were closed as well so the desire to hear other voices singing side by side was real and the loss hard felt,” Ripple said.
When restrictions related to the pandemic began to be eased, Alexander said, extra precautions were taken to ensure that live rehearsals would commence safely.
She credited the hospitality of the First Presbyterian Church in Matawan for making the chorale’s return a possibility.
“The reason it has been possible is twofold. First, we have a very supportive rehearsal site. We rehearse at the First Presbyterian Church in Matawan. They have cooperated with us to allow us to use the safest spaces possible.
“Our members have been able to come to rehearsals knowing that every single safety precaution has been implemented.
“Second, we have been singing with masks on (and) we have been socially distanced during rehearsals,” Alexander said.
Ripple praised the leadership of Alexander and other group members for orchestrating rehearsals and for live-streaming virtual concerts when in-person performances could not be presented.
“Fortunately, through the leadership of our director and some tech savvy members, the chorale soldiered on virtually during the pandemic via Zoom and was able to keep connected electronically.
“Through these channels we were able to ultimately put on a live-streamed Christmas concert where roughly a third of the members performed live together,” Ripple said.
Eventually, despite the safety precautions, the live-streaming of rehearsals and making in-person rehearsals optional, the chorale’s membership began to dwindle due to some people’s hesitancy surrounding the virus.
Alexander said, “That doesn’t mean everybody is rehearsing live. We understand some people are being very cautious. … Before COVID, we had 86 singers. Right now, our active roster is about 54 singers.
“So obviously there has been some attrition at this stage in the game. That is completely understandable. Some of our folks have moved out of state. Some folks are still not ready to come back to live events,” she said.
Alexander said while COVID has weakened the group’s numbers, it has not broken the spirit of those who remain to perform.
“These folks have become friendly with each other. They have gotten to know each other. Being able to see each other in person or via Zoom is a really important part of our overall sense of belonging and identity. … Every time a singer walks into the room it’s another joyous reunion.
“The same will be true when we are able to be with our friends and audiences again. When you have an audience, there is that magic that occurs and it becomes something tremendously special,” Alexander said.
For Ripple, the magic comes from sharing his voice with friends and family members.
“I love to sing with others for the sheer pleasure it brings to all who listen and partake. Over the past 20 years, my family has hosted a traditional Christmas party for our friends who merrily carol (at) the homes of our neighbors.
“Singing to me is a gift of inspiration and hope that can be shared and enjoyed by all. Singing in parts and harmony provides such a fullness and richness of sound that lifts the spirit and stirs the soul.
“It makes me appreciate the greatness of our humanity derived from the blessings and beauty bestowed by God,” Ripple said.
Alexander summed it up, saying, “Singing is using the voice in the most wonderful and universal language and that is music. There is no better way to be a part of something larger than yourself and to do something creative with your neighbors.”
For more information about membership in the Arcadian Chorale and purchasing tickets to the upcoming performances, visit https://www.arcadianchorale.org/home-1.html