Polish those pipes and notify your neighbours because Opera North is about to bring a little melody to your lonely lockdown days.
We all know how good it feels to belt out a tune. In the shower, on a long drive, together with your local choir – wherever you do it, singing has the ability to brighten your day. And now, you can harness that joy as you learn how to perform a trio of operatic masterpieces with people from all over the world! Welcome to Opera North’s From Couch to Chorus, a pay-as-you-feel online get-together that’s sure to make your heart sing.
The plan is rather special. Over the course of four weeks, Opera North’s Choral Director, Jenny Sterling will host a series of one-hour singing workshops over Zoom. Open to everyone from total beginners to experienced crooners, it will bring together passionate pros and curious participants, all eager to share a brand new skill. By the end, you’ll be able to sing excerpts in English from Mozart’s Idomeneo, Dvořák’s Rusalka and Verdi’s Aida – all culminating in a glorious, virtual rendition with the Chorus of Opera North. Wowee!
Already feeling a bit nervous? Let me stop you right there! From Couch to Chorus is all about the freedom, the fulfilment and the positive power of music. Sure, you’ll learn plenty of handy tips to improve your singing skills. But with participants muted during the sessions, you don’t have to worry that anyone is listening in on your vocals. Even if they could, it’s not about perfection – it’s about participation. Screech like a banshee. Hit a bum note. Strive for that crescendo. There’s no wrong way to do it.
Throwing caution to the wind is a powerful feeling – particularly when it comes to singing. Last time they ran From Couch to Chorus, they had over 2,000 participants and a whopping 90% of people said it improved their sense of wellbeing. “The only person who can make a fool of themselves is me,” Jenny told us. “It can be quite scary to be brave and make mistakes, but the best way to learn is to make mistakes! When you’re singing on Zoom it’s a lot easier to do that.”
So what operatic showpieces will you be getting to grips with? First up is ‘Placido e il mar’ from Mozart’s Idomeneo, an opera set around the Trojan War. The background may be feisty, but this song is oh-so-gentle. “It’s a plea to the gods to make our voyage across the sea calm and happy,” Chorus Master, Oliver Rundell, explained. “The music flows like gentle waves. It requires you to take good breaths and sing quite long, sustained notes called legato.” Good legato technique and controlled breathing are two fundamentals when it comes to opera singing, so it’s a cracking place to start.
Next, you’ll move from wars to weddings with an excerpt from Dvořák’s Rusalka, an upbeat song about the wedding of a water sprite. Dynamic, folksy and rhythmic, you may just find yourself dancing along as the music grows from hushed excitement to a finale of outright jubilance! Then, where better to end than with Verdi’s ‘Triumphal March’? Bursting with joy, it’s the perfect opportunity to sing your heart out and show off everything you’ve learnt.
Each of the songs has been translated into English and handpicked for their unique characters and challenges. Need to improve your breathing? Jenny’s got exercises for that. Want to hit those high notes? Wait ’til you hear about her special lunge move that might just help you get there! As well as finding out how to use your voice to convey the emotion of each story, From Couch to Chorus boasts oodles of fun insider tricks so you can start to sing like a pro. Think of it as a deep dive into what it takes to be an opera singer!
“Jenny will teach you the music, she’ll teach you the rhythm, she’ll help you with your diction, but first and foremost, she’ll give you a bit of joy in your life. And especially at the moment, we need joy, we need things to look forward to, to make us smile,” Gordon Shaw, Chorus Member at Opera North, told us. “And at the end of it, you get to perform fabulous music.”
In addition to her expert guidance throughout the lessons, Jenny’s provided plenty of resources for those who want to go the extra mile. Music scores, lyric sheets and various recordings from choral members are on standby to help you fine-tune your tonsils, but you’re just as welcome to rock up to each virtual session and go with the flow. Everything goes online so you can access or recap the lesson at your leisure – easy peasy!
Whether you take part for the love of singing, the pleasure of building a new skill or just for the companionship of joining a choir, From Couch to Chorus brings people together in meaningful ways. And that sense of personal connection has been just as rewarding for the Opera North team. “At first we weren’t sure how the final performance would work,” Oliver told us. “But actually, on the day, we stood there and we could see hundreds and hundreds of people all around the world Zooming into the session. And that was the moment we all realised how much we were connecting with people. It was quite moving really.”
From Couch to Chorus takes place between Wednesday 24th February and Thursday 18th March 2021. The course is pay-as-you-feel and open to everyone, no experience needed. There’s one hourly Zoom session per week, per voice type (don’t worry, they’ll help you find out which you are). Daytime and evening sessions are both available, as well as recordings. The daytime sessions are live-captioned and all resources will be available in large print and Braille.