Winnipeg choir produces emotional recording of Dolly Parton song — together, while apart

Polycoro hasn't been able to perform together in almost two years — but that didn't stop the choir from creating a powerful video of their performance of Dolly Parton's Light of a Clear Blue Morning to inspire hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight.

Polycoro's members worked separately to record video for their rendition of Light of a Clear Blue Morning

An image from Polycoro's video for their rendition of Dolly Parton's Light of a Clear Blue Morning. 'There are so many different ways that people have coped with the experience of COVID,' says the choir's creative director. 'I wanted something people could relate to.' (Polycoro/YouTube)

Like many other artists in Manitoba, Winnipeg's Polycoro hasn't been able to perform together in almost two years because of COVID-19 — but that didn't stop them from creating a powerful video to inspire hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight.

Singing is considered a "risky" activity in terms of spreading the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and pandemic restrictions have limited group gatherings since March of 2020.

In spite of all that, Polycoro was able to come together — while apart — to produce a video of the choir performing Dolly Parton's Light of a Clear Blue Morning.

"We would love to be able to sing together and record again in the same room," Polycoro's creative director, Zohreh Gervais, said in an interview with CBC's Information Radio.

"But because of the way things have been, with singing being a risky activity, we have just done it one person at a time in a studio. We didn't see each other at all during that entire shoot."

Gervais says she thought of the Dolly Parton song often throughout the pandemic.

"'It's been a long, dark night' — that's the first line of the song," she says, with the last word held "to the point where you're almost running out of breath.

"And it's just like, 'Oh my God — when is this gonna end?' And that's exactly what COVID has felt like for so many people, I think." 

'Something people could relate to'

Polycoro, which usually performs concerts with visual elements like the music video, formed in 2015. (The choir also has a CBC connection — Nolan Kehler, a technical producer with CBC Radio in Manitoba, is a tenor in the group.)

Gervais says the importance of recognizing society's pandemic experience in their art is necessary.

"I wanted to make this video because there are so many different ways that people have coped with the experience of COVID. I wanted something people could relate to. There are so many elements that have changed in all of our lives."

The video opens with a scene of a grandmother, running to embrace her grandchild in what we can assume is the first time in a very long time, Gervais says. 

"That is something so many families have missed. Distance and time didn't really make a dent in that. We still have that love between grandmother and the grandchild, no matter what."

Gervais says being able to record and sing such an uplifting song has encouraged her to remain optimistic, despite the challenges she faces as a parent and an artist. 

"The thing that resonates the most for me is this idea of being hopeful again, after having been almost too scared to hope.

"There were so many moments in COVID I think a lot of us, especially in the arts, wondered, 'How are we going to do this again?'"

Emotional reaction

Since the choir recorded and filmed their parts separately, Gervais says even the artists were surprised to see the final result.

"I didn't tell any of them what the video was going to be about. They were very emotional.… I got responses that, "Oh, I just bawled my eyes out.'"

But one local choir found a way to re-connect and find hope through song. Zohreh Gervais is Polocoro's Creative Director of Polycoro and shares with CBC how the group was able to re-connect. 7:02

Right now, COVID-19 restrictions in the province are easing, with larger groups being able to gather indoors and outside. Gervais, a soprano in Polycoro and lead singer of the bluegrass band Hay Fever, says she is eagerly awaiting the return to normal. 

"I'm looking forward to sharing that energy on stage again. I can't wait to sing with other people again, and to see an audience," she said.

"There's something just incredibly lonely about being a musician without ever seeing an audience, it's hard to stay motivated. I'm really looking forward to that excitement."


Renée Lilley is a reporter for CBC Indigenous. She is a recent University of Winnipeg grad with a BA in rhetoric and communications. She has reported on radio and online news in her hometown of Portage la Prairie. She is also a proud Métis mama of four girls.

With files from Information Radio


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