MOUNT VERNON — About two years after the Skagit Valley Chorale became known for having one of the country’s first clusters of COVID-19 infections, the musical group is preparing for its first performances with a live audience since the start of the pandemic.
The group will perform “Celebrating in Song” at McIntyre Hall the night of May 7 and in a matinee on May 8.
“Celebrating in Song” is about coming together and experiencing grief, comfort, a sense of belonging and sharing food and community, said Adam Burdick, the group’s director.
After experiencing loss and being apart due to COVID-19 restrictions, members of the group have found healing in being together again.
In March 2020, the chorale experienced a COVID-19 outbreak during a rehearsal, and became an early case study for the disease and how it spreads through the air.
After the rehearsal, 53 of the 61 chorus members experienced symptoms of COVID-19 and two died.
Diane Ramsey joined the group 31 years ago when she lived on a farm in Concrete.
The night of the outbreak, Ramsey, who now lives in Mount Vernon, did not attend rehearsal because she didn’t feel up for it that night, she said.
After the outbreak, the group took a hiatus, mourning its losses and coping with the pandemic, before its members began meeting on Zoom the following fall.
Zoom rehearsals proved to be a challenge, Burdick said.
The technology doesn’t allow for multiple people singing at once, so the chorus members had to record their parts and Burdick edited the recordings together.
The recording process was a learning experience, Burdick said, and it challenged the members to sing their best while accepting imperfection.
Some of the members quit the group after listening to the recordings of them singing solo, while others had dogs barking or dishwashers running in the background, Burdick said.
Ramsey did not attend Zoom rehearsals because she did not own a computer and has always preferred face-to-face rehearsals, she said.
In October 2021, the group got back together for outdoor, masked rehearsals.
Despite the cold, social distancing and masks, Ramsey attended the outdoor rehearsals.
She had developed deep friendships with other members over the years, and reconnecting with them was exhilarating, she said.
When it was safe to take off their masks, members of the group found emotions were more clearly communicated through facial expressions, and voices projected louder.
At a rehearsal Tuesday at Salem Lutheran Church in Mount Vernon, the choir had its typical energy and determination, and no small measure of joy and humor.
Even the warmups had a dose of whimsy, as Burdick had the singers running scales and arpeggios that focused on pitch but also on enunciation of phrases such as “yah, yah, yah,” “bumblebee-bumblebee-bumblebee” and “meow-meow-meow.”
“Every word is important, to be shared and heard,” Burdick said.
After a tricky sequence of minor-chord arpeggios — faster and faster, ascending and descending — the group worked through “Sing You Home,” a soaring, cinematic piece with challenging contrasting sections and countermelodies.
The dynamic shifts in the song — brought on by changes in volume, rhythm and melody — paint a vivid, dramatic picture.
After a difficult couple of years, the Skagit Valley Chorale is ready to harmonize again.
“We vibrate each other when we sing,” Burdick said.