Penn Yan Community Chorus keeps on keeping on

Stephanie Olsen
Alto, Penn Yan Community Chorus

The last rehearsal of the Penn Yan Community Chorus was in November 2019. Our last concert was the summer courthouse lawn gig in July of 2019. There was no Holiday Concert last year due to an ice storm on the first Sunday in December. So members have been apart physically since last November, as the usual spring rehearsals begin in March, and by that time any physical gatherings were impossible.

The Penn Yan Community Chorus at their first COVID-safe, outdoor rehearsal.

However, since March, we have been together socially and musically. Our eminently resourceful director has used Zoom to direct, teach, encourage the chorus members on Monday evenings.

Zoom does not lend itself to choral singing, due to varying bandwidth and other technical issues. There are sound delays that make singing together almost impossible. But that did not stop the Penn Yan Community Chorus from making music.

Chorus rehearsals have included instruction on the relaxation of the throat, how to use Audacity recording software, how to make a video and send it to others, and of course talking and sharing and laughing – and even scavenger hunts. When rehearsing songs, the director mutes all of us and plays the accompaniment, and we sing along with the accompaniment. Later, when we feel confident enough, we record ourselves singing along with accompaniment and then send our audio and video files to our director, who has been busy making music out of their contributions. The general public just might get to experience the result at some point in the future!

Chorus members (and the director) fantasized about meeting in-person, but there weren’t enough studies published to objectively ascertain the risk of such a gathering. Our director is also a music teacher so she researched the problem, knowing that she would need the information for her classes at school and for the Penn Yan Community Chorus. After studying the guidelines that schools would follow, she suggested we meet at least once during the summer – live!

So at the end of August the first real, in-person, non-virtual rehearsal was held in our director’s huge back yard. There were about a dozen people, with their chairs placed 12 feet apart (wooden blocks had been placed in the grass to mark where members were to put their chairs). All of the chorus members - and the director - were masked. In accordance with the guidelines, the chorus rehearsed for 25 minutes, then took a break, when people could move away from the group and remove their masks for a few minutes. Then the chorus sang again, sat down to talk for a bit, then left for home.

All agreed that it was an unforgettable evening. Worries were shared and music was made. And the only contagion spread was that of laughter. 

Anyone who wishes to join the Penn Yan Community Chorus may email them at