The pandemic robbed us of many things that we love. Topping my list is singing with others.

Kitty Beller-McKenna, foreground, directs s rehearsal of Women in Harmony. To sing together while reducing the risk of COVID transmission, the group has also gathered in a well-ventilated conference room and at a downtown Portland parking garage. Photo by Shoshana Hoose

For more than 15 years, I have spent every Tuesday evening with Women in Harmony, a group of about 60 women who sing social justice songs. We were rehearsing for our spring concert in March 2020 when the pandemic brought everything to a screeching halt.

Within a few weeks, the chorus had begun meeting on Zoom. “Live” group singing was impossible, because of the time lag in people’s voices reaching the online platform. So we muted ourselves and sang along at home as the director, Kitty Beller-McKenna, and the accompanist, Deana Gurney, led songs.

Women in Harmony has always been a strong community, and that’s every bit as important as our singing together. During my time as a member, we’ve sung at the wedding of a couple who met in the chorus, in the hospice rooms of two members nearing death and at several funerals of chorus members. The weekly Zoom sessions last spring allowed us to check in on each other during a scary time.

Meanwhile, Kitty researched what was known about safe protocols for group singing. Chorus members shared creative ideas of how we might move forward.

In late summer, we began rehearsing on Tuesday evenings in a downtown parking garage. Someone marked X’s on the cement floor each week to ensure that we stood 16 feet apart. As the sun set over Back Cove and the motorcycles roared by, we struggled to read our music in the dimming light.

One night, the heavens opened up in the middle of rehearsal. Rain poured through the garage ceiling and splattered around us. Deana moved her keyboard several times to protect it from the growing lake by her feet. That was a rehearsal that no one will forget.

When the weather grew cold, we returned to Zoom. By early spring, many members had been vaccinated. Small groups of masked women began gathering for short rehearsals in a well-ventilated conference room lent by a local nonprofit.

Now we are rehearsing outside again, this time on the grounds of Cape Elizabeth Middle School. Our singing masks muffle our voices and cut off much of our sight lines, making it difficult to hear others or to watch the director. A chilly fog sometimes blows in from the ocean, and mosquitoes nibble at our feet. Yet, we persist.

What does resilience sound like?

You can find out June 19 at 4 p.m. when we perform a free concert with the Maine Girls Chorus at the Fort Williams parade ground. The concert, titled “On Becoming,” features songs about the stages of a woman’s life from childhood to maturity. Audience members are asked to wear masks, bring lawn chairs and sit 6 feet apart.

One of the songs, “Stronger,” was written by Ruth Huber in the middle of the pandemic. We will sing with all of our hearts as we belt out the last verse:

“We’re coming out of this stronger, wiser, bolder, kinder,

One thing is for certain: there’ll be some changes made,

As we stand and sing together, once again!”


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