COVID-19: Choir of Calgary church thrives despite illness and online rehearsals

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WATCH: It's been a hard year for the congregation of Living Spirit Church in southwest Calgary. Two members died of COVID-19 after a service back in March. But as Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, members of the choir are determined to keep the Christmas spirit alive despite a member losing his voice to the coronavirus – Dec 7, 2020

Choir members at Living Spirit United Church have come together virtually to celebrate the season before the church closes its doors at the end of the year.

Members have faced an uphill battle, including their pianist losing his voice as a result of COVID-19.

There have been no in-person services at the southwest Calgary church since March when 24 members who attended a service contracted COVID-19. Two members passed away.

Read more: Calgary churches adapt to COVID-19 restrictions as Advent season begins

Ever since Living Spirit United Church stopped in-person services, choir rehearsals have taken place online.

It’s been a challenging effort because people can’t hear each other and the director has to do a lot of guesswork.

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“Never knowing what’s going to happen and taking guesses on how it’s going to work,” choir director Amanda Massey said on Monday.

“Everything takes longer and the familiarity isn’t there.”

But Massey said the rehearsals have been important for the church community, especially for the elderly members who live alone.

She said giving people an outlet  to sing every week makes their day more positive.

“Our congregation went through so much in the spring and we needed that connection,” Massey said.

“Our choir also has a large number of people who live alone. And the more they can be together, the stronger the connection with the community.”

Massey’s husband Greg survived COVID-19 after spending several days in the hospital.

“It hurts to breathe every morning,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to get back to 100 per cent. I don’t even know if I’ll get back to 100 per cent. It’s been very frustrating because my lung capacity is literally cut to two-thirds.

“It’s been brutal.”

Greg lost his singing voice to the novel coronavirus.

With the help of Amanda, who is a vocal instructor, he’s seeing improvement.

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“I really think that if anything, the positive of getting sick was just to slow down,” Greg said.

“I think through this whole period of time, that’s been the main thing I’ve been focusing on, is just slowing down and enjoying each day and not taking things for granted.”

Read more: Volunteers assist Calgary church members diagnosed with COVID-19

Living Spirit United Church will close its doors on Dec. 31. The choir will come together for an online virtual performance on Dec. 20 and will continue to sing together for at least the next six months.

“There is such a perseverance in this congregation and an optimism even in the midst of everything that has happened to us. There’s a lot of hope and a lot of love in there,” Amanda said

She noted there has been a silver lining to moving online. She said the number of students she teaches vocal lessons to has actually increased since the pandemic started.

“I put out a  Kijiji ad back in the spring when I panicked that I was going to lose all of my employment and choirs were going down the tube,” Amanda said. “I ended up getting students from all over Western Canada. Now I have students in Saskatchewan and from small communities in Alberta.

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“They were excited to realize they could do lessons online.”

As for Greg, he continues to recover from the virus. He said his once-mild asthma is now moderate and at times it can be quite severe. But he counts his blessings as his young family enters the new year with lessons learned from this year.

“Yes this is a difficult time and yes there are all these restrictions, but there’s a purpose and we can’t lose sight of that,” Greg said.

“It’s been an uphill battle for us but we still find positivity in everything that we try to do. We try to instil that in our kids that this is important and it’s not forever.”