EDITOR’s NOTE: In these distressing times, we need the arts more than ever, but the pandemic has wreaked havoc with performance and exhibition schedules. Over the next few weeks, BAMirror writer George Basler will be reporting on how local arts organizations are “Coping with COVID.” 

By George Basler

The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton

The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton is working to keep its name before the public even as it grapples with concert cancellations caused by COVID-19.

At the end of October, the choral ensemble posted a video on YouTube of singers performing the folk song “Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie,” written by Huddie William Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly.

The more than 20 singers recorded themselves separately. Then, Greg Keeler, a chorale member and a manager at WSKG, edited their performances together into the five-minute music video, said Theresa Lee-Whiting, president of the ensemble’s board. Moira Smiley did the arrangement, with body percussion by Evie Ladin.

The project came about because the ensemble was forced to cancel its fall concert. Putting it together was a complicated effort, “especially for us older folks who are not technically savvy,” said Artistic Director Bruce Borton. But the singers found it exciting as well, he noted.

The video included a short introduction by Borton, who emphasized: “While we can’t be together actually, we hope to get together virtually from time to time just to let you know we’re still here.”

For the same reason, the ensemble posted another video over the summer. It featured pictures of chorale members in full Renaissance costumes and a recording of a February 2019 performance of the Elizabethan madrigal “All Creatures Now” by John Bennett.

November is normally the time when the chorale is putting the finishing touches on its annual concert “Lessons and Carols for Christmas,” its most popular performance of the year, Borton said. While the live concert will not take place this year, the Madrigal Choir is planning a video version that will also be posted on YouTube. The video will feature musical portions recorded in previous years and fresh readings that choir members will record in their homes, Lee-Whiting said.

Borton still hopes the ensemble will be able to perform a live concert in April even it has to meet social distancing requirements. But, realistically, a distinct possibility exists that there will no live concerts this season, he said.

While 2020 has been a tough year, he remains optimistic about the future of 42-year-old ensemble. “We will be back; that’s a promise,” he said, noting: “Our singers are chomping at the bit.”

Binghamton Downtown Singers

The Binghamton Downtown Singers’ performance of Handel’s Messiah has been a Christmas holiday tradition for more than three decades. But COVID-19 has killed it for this year, said Faith White, co-president of the non-professional chorus made up of community singers.

The decision was a difficult one, White said. For many of the singers, herself include, performing Handel’s great work is the highlight of their Christmas season. But the DTS board had no choice; risk factors made it too difficult to rehearse a large choir, White said.

Moreover, putting on the concert costs money. The group must pay for an orchestra, soloists, a conductor and an accompanist. Ticket sales are needed to break even, White said.

COVID halted preparations for the annual spring concert this past June, and the 2021 spring concert is very much in jeopardy, she added. The chorus typically start rehearsing for the concert in mid-January. Given the situation with COVID-19 it is highly uncertain this will happen, White said.

While live performances are canceled, the choir still hopes to salvage something this holiday season. The group plans to approach WSKG, the local public broadcasting station, to air an audio version of Messiah that the group recorded several years ago, White said.

“We’re on hold right now, but we have no plans to disband,” she emphasized. The group continues to have an active Facebook page and is keeping in touch with members through letters and emails. “We’ve tried to keep in contact to keep the spirit alive. As soon as it is safe, we will start again,” White said.