WILLIAMSBURG — After a year in the dark, the Williamsburg Choral Guild is ready to share its music with the community again.
Since 1975, the all-volunteer mixed voice chorus has performed music for the Greater Williamsburg area.
While a typical season for the guild sees around four major shows a year, which includes a winter concert and big spring finale performance, the 2020-2021 season looked a bit different.
With the COVID-19 pandemic landing right before the end of the guild’s season, it had to figure out what to do with all of the rehearsal time.
A group comprised of performers that thrive upon sharing their music in person and connecting with an audience, soon became a virtual choir.
Julia Comfort, the new president of the guild’s Board of Directors for this coming season, said because the guild has not been able to sing together as a group since the spring of 2020, they had to get creative.
“We wanted to be able to do something for the holiday season to not only remind our members of the beautiful music that we make but also to show our appreciation to our patrons,” Comfort said.
The guild created a photo montage to “Hold Fast to Dreams,” which is the title of a song that they performed in the 2019-2020 season. The montage featured behind-the-scenes pictures from previous seasons.
“We chose that song to bring everyone a few moments of joy and to let them know that although things might seem bleak, to always keep hope,” Comfort said.
While Comfort noted that there were challenges that not singing together as a choir in-person brought, the guild has been participating in virtual rehearsals under the new leadership of Interim Artistic Director Elise Ramos-Krepcho.
“It ended up being more of a guided practice session,” Ramos-Krepcho said. “The guided practice has been the toughest part especially for our members. People rely a lot on what you hear around you. There was a handicap.”
While technology has brought its own set of challenges to the guild, particularly with the more seasoned members, the singers were committed.
“Any person that is involved in music at all and is serious about it is going to spend some time practicing on their own outside of rehearsal time,” Ramos-Krepcho added.
The guild recently gave a virtual performance of the song “How Can I Keep From Singing?” by Taylor Davis to try to connect with the community despite not being in-person.
“For me, music brings joy and provides catharsis in a time of trouble,” Comfort said. “It was heart wrenching for me not to be able to sing with the guild because that’s what I look forward to so much during the crazy work week.”
“That was why it was so important for us that we had this virtual performance to be able to sing again and share our music,” she added.
With a new season coming up, Ramos-Krepcho hopes to bring her extensive musical background to the guild.
The former Assistant Artistic Director during the 2020-2021 year hopes to bring more diversity and inclusiveness to the guild in her new role this season.
“At one of the first rehearsals that I attended with the choral guild, one of the singers came up to me and said that she has been singing for 40 years and that I was the first female who has ever been her conductor,” Ramos-Krepcho said.
“I started to think about the professional choral directors in the state of Virginia, and there aren’t many females, and then females who are brown,” she added. “That’s the one thing I’m really excited about is to kind of bring a different diversity and experience.”
Ramos-Krepcho hopes to make the guild more accessible to a younger generation as well.
“Choral music is not cool or uncool, it’s an expression,” she said. “It’s something that I think can seem exclusionary if you haven’t been involved in it for your whole life, or been in a community where it’s considered to be important.”
One of the first steps toward making the choir more inclusive are uniform changes that will make the dress code less formal.
“It will still be all black, but it’s not saying men should wear this, women should wear that,” Comfort said. “If you’re a woman who wants to wear pants, have at it.”
Ramos-Krepcho and the board wanted the uniforms to appear less antiquated to the audiences.
“When somebody looks at the stage, it looks modern, it looks kind of sexy,” Ramos-Krepcho said. “And people will say ‘They look great on stage and they’re doing what they love? I’m in.’”
With auditions for the new season beginning in August, the guild is preparing for its upcoming season, which will open with the December concert.
While a venue and a date have not been announced yet, the 2021 winter concert will include a harp and traditional Christmas music, including a 13-minute piece.
While the new season may see some changes, the guild still shares the same theme of sharing music with the community.
“Even though we’re now trying to bring in younger audiences or members, we also really do appreciate our long-term patrons and we know without them we would not be where we are,” Comfort said. “We want to make music accessible to everyone and let everyone enjoy that wonderful experience.”
You can see Williamsburg Choral Guild’s photo montage and virtual performance in the videos below: