Inspiring Choirs Across the World – When They Can’t Meet

The members of Assemble Vocal Group with Juliet Russell
A special initiative brings an inspirational song to choirs – and a new way of being “together”.

Vocal Coach and Singdaptive Instructor Juliet Russell and Music Director Naveen Arles have reached out to choirs across the world with a way to create a virtual choir around a fabulously inspiring choral piece.

First Juliet “modelled” the song with her own group, “Assemble”. Choirs who are interested in learning this song, can download free resources, along with instructions on how to create a virtual choir around it can get what they need here. (free until the 15th of May)

We caught up with Juliet to ask her about the project and how the virtual choir pulled it off:

First: that is an awesome song! Where did you find it?

Thank you. It’s a song I originally wrote for my Earth Meets Sky album. I first arranged it for choirs in 2015, when Arts Council England supported my UK tour – we worked with local musicians and choirs in 10 different locations, creating a unique performance in each. This version is quite different though as it’s completely a cappella – just voices.

 Is this something that choirs can get their hands on?

Yes! Together with Naveen Arles (London International Gospel Choir and MD Brunch) we launched an International virtual choir project called My Voice Lifts My Soul on World Voice Day – 16th April – offering free resources and a “how to” document. These are completely free to download until 15th May 2020.

OK – how did you pull feat this off?   I mean, you can’t just all sing at the same time – because of latency!

Yes, that’s right.  It isn’t recorded live or via a conferencing tool. Essentially we recorded the audio separately, mixed it together then everyone performed to what they had sung and videoed themselves doing so. The available “how-to” sheet  that explains our process in detail. Oh – and a shout out to my husband who used AfterFX.

 Did anything surprise you about working on this project?

This was the first time I had created a virtual choir so it’s always good to remind ourselves to keep growing and experimenting with new ways of creating and communicating, especially as globally we are all having to experiment with new ways of interacting, connecting and supporting each other.

What has it been like connecting to choirs through this project?

The level of support and engagement has been so uplifting. We have choirs involved from India, Malaysia, the US, Portugal, France, Norway and Australia so that has been really wonderful – to connect with people in different parts of the world. 90+ people signed up for the webinar too.

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

The timescale – from inception to launch including creating resources, recording, creating a video, recruiting choirs, delivering a zoom webinar to teach the song was 2 weeks. We had a tech meltdown on launch day, but that’s part of it – overcoming the challenges, amending your plan and celebrating the positives.

 How did you get this group together?   

Assemble is a professional choir that I put together 3 years ago, inviting singers with whom I had an existing working relationship and whose voices, personality and creative approach I thought would complement each other. Each one is an excellent singer in their own right and has their own vocal style. Coming together creates something bigger than the sum of our parts. There’s a lot of fun, a lot of creativity and a lot of good vibes.

You’re a choir director – how are you connecting with your group during the pandemic?

That’s the right word – connecting. I think the biggest lessons I am learning is not to try to replicate what you have done before because working online is different to being in the room with people. I have a community choir and a pro choir and I work with them both differently, but with the same philosophy – how can we keep evolving, connected and creative? With the community choir, we turn mics on and off a lot, catching up and chatting in between learning repertoire.

What ideas do you have for choir directors and their choirs to keep up the singing joy at this time?

The main thing to remember is that singing IS joy. For some people coming to choir might be their only group interaction at the moment, especially for people who live alone, live with pre-existing health conditions and are having to self-isolate. Choirs are a community – and to keep yours going at this time is essential. Due to latency, running a choir in a traditional (or habitual!) way is just not possible, but you can use it as a time to develop new repertoire, develop technical and musical skills. Ask your choir what they would like to do too.  It’s different, but no less valuable. Just do what you can with what you have and if you want to learn a new song, join us!

Web link for free resources

Juliet Russell is an Instructor at Singdaptive. You can look at her courses here. is a composer and MD for ensembles and choirs and is a passionate advocate for the power of singing to connect and uplift us. She is MD of professional choir Assemble and has led and created choirs for alt-J, Paloma Faith, BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge, the Olympic Torch project, Gorillaz, Bill Bailey, Glastonbury, Greenpeace, Channel 4 and the BBC. She has coached Grammy winners, BRiT nominees, MOBO and MTV Europe award winners. 

Naveen Arles
BCA, has established himself as an energetic, inspirational vocal leader and animateur. His 35 years in music incorporates 25 years of creating singing groups of all ages and abilities. Nav’s ability to motivate people to try music and train any group of people means he equally delivers workshops to both senior management training courses and to prisoners. His choirs have toured with Hugh Jackman, Take That, Lulu; performed with George Ezra, Alexandra Burke, Freya Ridings, on all TV channels, for HRH Prince Charles and welcomed the guests for Michelle Obama’s exclusive UK book launch.

The Members of Assemble include Alena Herel, Ashley Samuels, Barbara Amoakohene Pursey, David Combes, Elisabeth Valentine, Flexie Muiso, Jazz Rodrigues de Sousa, Jono McNeil, Juliet Russell, Kartik Raghunathan, Kelly Woods, Matt Allen, Natalie-Christian John, Sashi Wild, Simone Niles, Tommy Ludgate, Tommy Ng, William Lester and Verushka George

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