2020 marks the tenth anniversary of Prima Vocal Ensemble, Ewa Salecka’s exhilarating brand of communal choir in York, but this is the Covid-ruined year when group singing indoors is on the lockdown list of forbidden pleasures.
“Here’s a genuine irony,” says musical director, conductor and producer Ewa. “An activity proven to have such a positive effect on our mental health has been so drastically restricted by events that make those very same benefits more essential than ever.”
Prima Vocal Ensemble “got through” Lockdown 1 with online rehearsals and once the Government measures eased in the halcyon days of summer, Ewa was able to re-assemble group meetings, albeit in a socially distanced, bubble format, for eight weeks.
Describing running a choir in 2020 as being “intense”, she praised her singers for showing “amazing community spirit”, especially now that the brief choral corridor has been closed off once more in Lockdown 2.
“It has been an extremely difficult year for everyone working in the arts,” says Ewa. “Here in York, with its rich history of choral singing, directors across the spectrum have had to adjust to cancelled plans and uncertainty.
“As a musical director, conductor and producer, keeping one step ahead of the pack has always been the aim. Now, it’s a case of keeping one step ahead of a global pandemic and – let’s admit it, sometimes confusing – Government advice.”
Nothing energises Polish-born Ewa more than a seemingly insurmountable task. So, back in March, she wasted not a single week in setting up weekly virtual rehearsals for the 100-strong Prima Vocal Ensemble.
However, the necessities of lockdown quickly brought with it many other issues. “I struggled at times, being physically disconnected from both my personal support and international artistic network, but after seeing Prima each week online, the reality for some really hit home hard,” Ewa explains.
“I could see some people coping with the stress of lockdown worse than others and quickly understood that this was now not only about continuing with high-standard rehearsals, but also about protecting mental health and well-being of our singers through regular community engagement.”
Choir members responded immediately to Ewa’s call for support networks, stepping up to the mark to reach out to everyone in the group who might be finding the alienating circumstances difficult.
As lockdown eased and a “very restricted” return to physical rehearsals looked hopeful, new challenges arose. “I knew not everyone would be able to attend in person, but nothing was going to stop me bringing a glimpse of normality– and more importantly, hope – to as many people as I could,” says Ewa.
“I spent the whole of August on constant micro-planning for the ever-changing scenarios: live simulcast broadcasts to set up for those at home; tons of administrative detail; appropriate venues; risk-assessments; seemingly endless regulations and disclaimers – and the weekly Zoom sessions continued alongside!
“It was so new for everyone, I couldn’t just call out for help. I simply had to get on with it: find that balance between creative output, Government guidelines and undisputed science. Being able to be back in one room with Prima was both emotional and exhilarating.”
Given 2020 being Prima Vocal Ensemble’s tenth anniversary year, it means everything to Ewa to keep the spirits of this singing community high. By working from a professional home studio, fitted with top-standard equipment and a baby grand piano, she can provide high-quality resources for her singers in York.
“They really are both ambitious and inspiring,” she says. “I’m in awe of their perseverance and dedication through this dramatic year. When we finally began to meet up after a half-a-year break, I was blown away by how fantastic they sounded, especially with the new repertoire.
“It was clear to me that our tutored virtual rehearsals really worked. And although it took a moment to adjust to the new space arrangements, the choir was in top form.”
Her professional studio set-up has enabled Ewa to continue her work as a vocal coach, having the pleasure of training private clients and seeing her York St John University music students graduate with top results this summer.
“I was immensely proud of them all, although I did feel for them missing out on a traditional graduation ceremony!” she says.
Come November 5, come Lockdown 2. “For Prima, until we can resume our ‘bubble rehearsals’, it’s a temporary return to full-on Zoom,” says Ewa, “I aim to find uplifting content that everyone can engage with and we will soon start working towards future events.
“Among Prima’s concerts, in 2021 we will be performing on three occasions with The Voice tenor Russell Watson and we already have bookings for 2022. We’re now preparing for a winter project that will be available to view online in December, so watch this space.”
For all the frustrations and stalled plans of 2020, nevertheless Ewa says this is the perfect time to join Prima Vocal Ensemble: “We’re open to welcome new members with spaces for more tenors and basses and a couple of 1st sopranos too.
“There are no auditions to join,” she stresses. “The repertoire is extremely versatile, from inspiring, feel-good pieces in all genres to formal classical orchestral works. Ability to hold the line is essential, and with my professional training, you’re guaranteed to develop your voice and musical skills.”
You can contact Ewa by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, adding “Joining PVE” in the subject line.
“There’s a waiting list for altos and sopranos, but as there are various additional projects being planned, all singers are encouraged to contact Prima if they wish to be added to the list and informed of the new singing opportunities,” says Ewa.
She has limited spaces too for private vocal clients, either in person or online. To enquire, email Ewa at the address above, adding: “Vocal training”.
Noted for her unstinting positivity, she offers a final thought. “I’m not going to let the lockdown or the pandemic prevent me from inspiring people to be involved in music making,” says an adamant Ewa.
“Singing, creativity and artistic engagement can happen, will happen and is absolutely guaranteed to help all of us through this time, both physically and mentally.”
For more information on Prima Vocal Ensemble, visit the “Join Us” section at primavocalensemble.com.