Due to campus closures, statewide stay-at-home orders, and social distancing guidelines, the University of Redlands Chapel Singers haven’t been able to rehearse together for weeks. So when U of R Director of Choral Studies Nicholle Andrews invited them to participate in the Phoenix Chamber Choir’s quarantine rendition of Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time,” six students joined in.
“The fact that three of my choirs from Vancouver, Montreal, and Redlands performed together is pretty incredible," says Andrews. "I would never have imagined that the pandemic would connect my friends, colleagues, and students from across the world. It is inspiring that COVID-19 actually united singers from around the globe to join together in song.”
In addition to her position at the U of R, Andrews is the artistic director of the Phoenix Chamber Choir, a 26-member vocal ensemble founded in 1983 and based in Vancouver, Canada. Before the COVID-19 crisis began, she was traveling regularly to Vancouver to work with the ensemble, collaborate with the group’s assistant conductor, and build ties within the choral community.
In order to bring smiles to peoples’ faces in a time of isolation, Andrews has been working with the ensemble to create an array of videos featuring popular songs with lyrics humorously adapted to reflect current events. After the group’s version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”—aptly renamed “Coronavirus Rhapsody”—garnered over 300,000 views on YouTube, the group decided to try their hand at a Billy Joel tune.
The video features 36 individual webcam videos of each singer—including U of R's Anna Caplan ’19, ’21, Timothy Cunningham ’22, Hanako Duffie ’23, Anna Forgét ’21, Connor Licharz ’20, and Mari Powell ’21—each assigned a different part of the song’s arrangement in order to form a multi-layered song. Singers also include some members of a group Andrews started during her doctoral work at McGill University to perform contemporary Canadian choral music.
In the video, Andrews keeps time by opening and closing a container of Lysol wipes while one singer gets his hair trimmed in real-time. The song’s adapted lyrics, written by Andrews, encourage a laugh as well:
I have been at home in quarantine
Stopping spread of COVID-19
What else would I do?
I don’t want this virus from you!
I haven’t left here for the longest time.
Exercise by jogging round my room
Online meetings taking place on Zoom
Though this is safer, we’re out of toilet paper!
We haven’t left here for the longest time.
Teachers try to teach their kids online.
Somehow this needs twice as much prep time!
Self-isolation is how we help our nation.
We haven’t left here for the longest time.
Maybe this won’t last very long.
There’s no end in sight,
Though I could be wrong.
Maybe I’ve been hoping too hard,
But we’ve come this far,
Our curve’s getting flatter!
If you choose to venture out today
Stay at least 2 meters away!
Can’t take no chances, given the circumstances.
We’ll be at home for the longest time!
I have hopeful thoughts at start.
I said to myself, “I will do my part
Washing hands, not touching my face”
I long for your embrace.
That’s all that I hope for.
It’s my job to do all the right things,
Social distancing even as I sing.
I miss you so bad!
But I think you know that.
I intend to stay here for the longest time.
Andrews told the Redlands Community News that Phoenix Chamber Choir member Carolyn Shiau arranged the music and created a click track for the choir, allowing singers to keep accurate time for their individual parts.
Brad Andrews, director of music admissions and professor of sound recording, pieced each vide into the final product. “Once they completed their video, they emailed it to us and we edited and mixed it together,” Andrews told the News. “It’s a very time-consuming process, but worth every minute.”
It was worth it, indeed. The performance—which has drawn more than 1.7 million views on YouTube—was praised by Joel, who sent a personal note to Andrews. Joel empathized with the group, saying that he looks forward to being able to play live music again and offering hope for the future. He says, “Considering how well your choristers performed while isolated from each other, that would certainly bode well for future performances when they can all be together in the same place.”
U of R students enjoyed the chance to participate in the video. Anna Caplan ’19, ’21, revealed that capturing her contribution to the song was a welcome challenge.
“It feels a bit lonely when you are used to being surrounded by others in a chorus, but hearing the final result is so rewarding,” she told the Press Enterprise. “I have never met most of the choristers in the video, but I feel connected to them through the music and this shared experience.”
The video has nearly 1,000 comments on YouTube.
One viewer writes: “A lot of bad things happened because of COVID 19. This is definitely not one of them. It’s so brilliantly written and sung. Definitely made my day.”
Another says: “I just want you to know you've created one of those videos that my grandfather finds on Facebook, then emails to everyone he’s ever met.”
And: “Thank you so much. As a professional musician, staying home and missing music-making it filled my heart...made me cry. Thank you.”
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