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Socially distanced ‘car choirs’ keep Towson-based Children’s Chorus of Maryland on key

Students with the Children’s Chorus of Maryland and School of Music perform inside and outside vehicles during pandemic-induced "car choir" rehearsals.
Students with the Children’s Chorus of Maryland and School of Music perform inside and outside vehicles during pandemic-induced "car choir" rehearsals. (Erin Barach and Chris Wells)

After meeting online for more than seven months, the Towson-based Children’s Chorus of Maryland has found a way to continue in-person rehearsals through socially distanced “car choirs.”

Holding its first such gathering in October in the parking lot of the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Lutherville-Timonium, the chorus has held four in-person rehearsals from inside individual cars, while connecting through headphones, microphones and long cables attached to a mixing console run by a sound engineer.

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Organized by staff and volunteers, the chorus is now able to sing together in real time.

The car choirs are just one way the Children’s Chorus of Maryland & School of Music has had to be creative during the yearlong coronavirus pandemic that has adversely impacted both membership and the organization’s financial condition.

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To try to recover lost revenues, the organization’s board started a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise $50,000. As of March 16, contributions totaled $6,885.

With the need to adapt to the hardships created by the pandemic, Andrea Burgoyne, executive director of the chorus, said the inspiration for car choirs came after she learned of a choir in Massachusetts that had been holding in-person rehearsals from their cars.

After researching local sound companies, she contacted Maryland Sound International, a local professional audio and live sound production company that later provided audio equipment and an engineering staff to the chorus for its rehearsals.

So far, she said the car choirs have been a success.

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“We had to find some way [where kids can sing together] while keeping them apart, so we invented car choir, which is a bit of a crazy idea, but worked out well,” she said. “The kids come together in their family vehicle, so everybody has an isolation pod and [they] sing into microphones and hear each other as a group in real time.”

In addition to car choirs, she said the Children’s Chorus of Maryland & School of Music has introduced four-session mini-courses, such as, conducting and composing, ukulele and private lessons, to its choral program.

Although the organization has managed to offer these courses for free to its students and for $75 to non-members, it has taken a hit financially.

Over the past year, the chorus and music school lost significant income due to canceled concerts and a decrease in enrollment and tuition, according to a news release.

Despite the obstacles the organization has faced, it perseveres.

Founded in 1976, the chorus program is one of the oldest and most distinguished vocal literacy training and choral music education programs of its kind in the country, according to its website.

Beginning with six children who met in a private home, the chorus at one point had expanded to include 90 members in three choirs for children ages 6 to 17.

Susan Bialek, the chorus’ artistic director, said the children remain dedicated in their desire to sing.

“The students have persisted in a really remarkable and admirable way,” she said. “I’m really impressed by these kids showing up on Zoom twice a week and asking questions and submitting recordings and being happy to see each other and happy to celebrate each other; it is pretty remarkable and we are really lucky.”

Currently, the Children’s Chorus of Maryland & School of Music is in the process of planning for its 2021-2022 conservatory season.

On March 19, 20 and 21, the chorus will be holding auditions for children ages 5½ to 12 at the organization’s location, 320 E. Towsontown Blvd. in Towson.

Michelle Reynoso, 16, of Towson, has been a member of the chorus for seven years and is in her last year with the group before graduating from the program.

She said it is exciting to see the outcome of all their hard work over the past year.

“I’m looking forward to hearing how everything comes out because we have tentative concert plans, and I hope we get to that point to see and hear all this music that we have been working on this past semester,” she said.

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