When it became impossible to run his real-life choirs as normal this week, vocal leader James Sills launched The Sofa Singers. The virtual group invites people from all over the world to connect through the power of song – from the comfort of their sofas
At 7.30pm GMT on Tuesday, a choir met for its first ever rehearsal. Starting tentatively to the sound of a few throats being nervously cleared, its members soon warmed up, grinning at each other while belting out verse after verse, before chatting excitedly afterwards over cups of tea.
But they weren’t flouting official UK advice to avoid mass gatherings; it was all done online, with people taking part via video from sofas all over the world. The mass singalong, The Sofa Singers, is the brainchild of James Sills – a musician and vocal leader who lives in north Wales – and it has been designed to spark joy and togetherness amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
“I was so moved by seeing the neighbourhood singing in Italy and wondered if we could recreate that spirit with an online choir,” Sills told Positive News on Tuesday evening, as he carried out last-minute preparations for the first rehearsal. “And so the idea for The Sofa Singers was born. I guess it’s a bit of an experiment. But it will be amazing to have hundreds of people joining me for a simultaneous singalong.”
People signed up to the choir in advance using a video conferencing app, receiving a link from Sills to the online rehearsal space. At 7.30pm, they were then able to see and hear Sills, who took them through the song bit by bit. There were 500 digital spaces available – all offered for free.
The tune of choice, to capture a spirit of resilience and global unity? Sills selected Stand By Me, which was originally performed in 1961 by US singer and songwriter Ben E. King. The performance also featured a segue into Just The Way You Are by Bruno Mars, with optional harmonies and backing vocals.
Crucially, participants were also able to see each other on-screen during the 45-minute rehearsal (though not able to hear each other, due to the technical issues that would create).
Sills encouraged everyone to sing with a smile. “This is a really important part of The Sofa Singers,” he said, “as it helps everyone feel more connected.”
It was absolutely heart-opening to see everyone in their homes grooving and singing along. My heart is full!
The guidance on the website for the new project encourages participants to “sing as if no one is listening.. because they won’t be!”, and invites the singers to “share the final performance with other people.”
Tina Roth Eisenberg, a Swiss designer who is based in New York, took part in the online choir. “It was so liberating that nobody could hear each other,” she told Positive News. “It was like singing in the car, but not alone.”
Eisenberg added: “It was absolutely heart-opening to see everyone in their homes grooving and singing along. My heart is full!”
Another participant, Lou Baxter, tweeted after the event: “Just spent a lovely 45 minutes singing online with The Sofa Singers and 400 other people from around the world! Still smiling and really looking forward to joining again next week.”
Sills, who is the author of Do Sing, hopes that the project “will make us feel more connected and positive in these difficult times,” and concluded: “Let’s keep singing.”
To find out more, visit www.thesofasingers.net and www.jamessillsmusic.co.uk
Image credit: twitter.com/@swissmiss