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Many individuals derive great personal benefit from participation in singing communities. In the spring of 2020, however, the activities of these communities were rudely curtailed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This ethnographic study considers a virtual choir organized by the music director at a church in Massachusetts. For eleven weeks, participants were invited to submit recordings of themselves singing hymns and other selections. These were then mixed into a podcast-style ‘service’ that was published on the church website each Sunday morning. Unlike most virtual choirs, the object in this case was not to create a pristine replica of a choral performance but rather to capture the untrained and unrehearsed sounds of a singing congregation. As a participant, I carefully documented my experiences throughout the ‘Hymn Singing in Isolation’ project, and upon the project’s conclusion I interviewed ten other participants concerning their own experiences. My purpose was to discover whether participation in this project served to sustain and/or create community, and to understand what role singing played in that process. Participants’ experiences were influenced by a variety of factors, including whether or not they were members of the church. However, all participants reported a bifurcated experience: While recording their contributions was often lonely and even isolating, consuming the completed podcast was meaningful and provided participants with a sense of community belonging. I propose bifurcated musicking as a frame for understanding how participants in this and other virtual choirs are able to access a communal experience. Grounding my discussion in research on congregational singing and virtual choirs, I conclude that any analysis of a virtual choir must consider the points of production and consumption as distinct experiences, and that communal sentiment arising from participation varies widely according to the way in which each individual conceptualizes their relationship to the imagined singing community.


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20 Jul 2022
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  • DPLA rights
    • open-access

  • Institution
    • Dahlonega

  • Publisher
    • Journal of Music, Health, and Wellbeing

  • Date submitted

    20 July 2022

  • Keywords
  • Additional information
    • Book or Journal Information:

      Journal of Music, Health, and Wellbeing