British Columbia

'Carbershop' chorus finds renewed harmony with parking-lot rehearsals

It hasn't been easy for choirs to get together during the pandemic — but the Vancouver Thunderbirds Chorus has found a unique way to create its unique barbershop harmonies.

Singing together is a major no-no during the pandemic, so one group took their vehicles to the parking lot

Every singer remains in their own car with their own mics and each cord leading to the main mixing board is sanitized before being plugged in. (Vancouver Thunderbird Chorus/Facebook)

A Vancouver barbershop chorus has come up with a creative way to keep singing in harmony during the pandemic: by rehearsing in their cars.

The Vancouver Thunderbird Chorus ceased all in-person rehearsals back in March 2020, member Paul Melhus said. 

Since April, the group had been doing a rehearsal over Zoom on Wednesdays. 

"That's good for seeing our fellow members ... [but] it's so not like actually being able to create that group harmony sound that makes us a unique group," Melhus said. 

Choirs everywhere have had a tough time during the pandemic. Research has shown that singing, with its deep breathing and voice projection, spreads airborne droplets more efficiently than other activities.

"Singing is a super-spreader event," Melhus said. 

Dave Vincent, the Vancouver Thunderbird Chorus director, was instrumental in figuring out the 'carbershop' rehearsals. (Vancouver Thunderbird Chorus/Facebook)

Enter the "carbershop."

It's an idea that chorus director Dave Vincent came up with, Melhus says.

Every member, sitting in their own car in a parking lot, gets their own microphone that hooks up to a mixing board outside. Their combined voices are then broadcast to the group via a low-power FM transmitter. 

"Everybody can hear everybody else and we can have pretty close to what you might have when we are all singing together," Melhus said, who says there are about 20 people who participate in the Sunday afternoon rehearsals.

"We get set up and do our harmony and it works out really, really well."

Barbershop singing is all about creating harmonies without the aid of musical instruments. The Vancouver Thunderbird Chorus, which was founded in 1950, was one of the first barbershop groups in Canada.

Melhus says while the Zoom rehearsals were fun, the carbershop rehearsals are a huge step up. 

"It's all in real time. There's no latency, there's no lag. It's very, very similar to standing two feet apart and singing as a group," he said. 

There were even some tears at the group's first rehearsal. 

"The joy of being able to create harmony together was pretty emotional. I can't imagine what it's going to be like when we're all able to get together and sing in person. We'll need a lot of Kleenex."

Listen to the interview on CBC's On The Coast:

One of the joys of singing in a choir is of course singing together, but pandemic restrictions made that impossible for choirs like the Vancouver Thunderbirds barbershop chorus. Enter parking lot rehearsals or "carbershop" events. Hear Paul Melhus, a member of the Thunderbirds. 9:25

With files from On The Coast

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