It was during the course of a car journey to a rehearsal at Bruiser’s house that a few of us came up with the suggestion of ‘Digital Tour’ as the name for our series of online concerts. They would be filmed live and then broadcast online, available to people who’d buy a ticket and then gain access to the film. The group voted, and Digital Tour it was. ‘Touring’ is so much part of the DNA of our group. And it’s the one thing we haven’t been able to do this year. Social media clips, recording CDs, commissioning music, charitable collaborations, programming, arranging — that’s all been fine; it’s the touring that’s been so absent through COVID. So we thought ‘Digital Tour’ captured the spirit of what we were trying to replace.
Except, of course, there is no replacing touring. There’s no replacing meeting of thousands of people from numerous different countries, there’s no replacing the coffee shops, the feeble attempts at conversation in various languages, the hundreds of airports, the hotels (from luxury all the way down to the most basic), the churches, concert halls, town halls, castles and the rest. There’s no replacing the thrill of stepping out on to stage with your colleagues, to see a sea of faces all eagerly awaiting the first chord of the show. There’s no replacing the thrill of the silence when a well-performed piece finishes and no one wants to be the first to clap. There’s no replacing the shaking of hands, the hugging, the signing of a CD or book, the selfie with a nervous supporter who asks politely after a concert. All of this must wait until next year, or — who knows — the year after. But what we could create this year was an intimate experience, curated, created and sent out to the world by the six of us and a team of film crew, to maintain what we could of the concert experience.
And so with ‘Tour’ in the name, finding a series of suitable and different venues became the game. Some fell into place easily: the Yamaha Store in London were all too keen to host a concert in their ‘Piano Hall’, focussed on the cultural life of Japan. It only took one email to Father Choral Christmas (John Rutter) to have his local church signed up to host a concert. But then we hunted round a little; we wanted somewhere unusual and thought-provoking to do a programme of close harmony called ‘The Library Live’ and we found the Clock Tower of St. Pancras Railway Station in London. We wanted somewhere with rich and warm acoustics to fit the sacred music for ‘Out of Darkness’ and found the beautiful St. Giles’ Church, Cripplegate.
Although this year has in so many ways been full of compromises, making-do, and even sometimes admitting defeat, the Digital Tour has given us a few opportunities that we don’t often get. Firstly, we’ve had the chance to really get used to working on film; it requires a different type of concentration and delivery from a normal concert or even a recording session, and getting to know the needs and processes of a film crew has been a fascinating learning curve for all of us. Secondly, unlike with many of our concert programmes, we could be actually quite selfish in what we chose to programme for the Digital Tour. With no festival, venue, promoter or theme to consider, we could sit down with a blank sheet of paper, and work on programmes which totally revolved around the music we enjoy singing — be it Elton John with dance moves or complicated new music in Japanese. Thirdly, it has given us a newfound understanding and appreciation of the people who make music festivals and concert series work. With our own money invested into the project, and no promoter working on the marketing, we have had to adapt to selling the concerts ourselves, finding and persuading an audience to engage with a brand new model of concert-going. All in all, there is so much that we’ve learned and which we can take forward into whatever brave new world awaits.
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