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Durango Choral Society returns to stage for first time since pandemic

Members of the Durango Choral Society will take the stage for the first time since the pandemic Saturday with “Viva Vivaldi!” (Courtesy of Linda Mack Berven)
50th season anniversary resumes with ‘Viva Vivaldi!’

If there’s an award for Best Pandemic Pivot, it may very well go to Durango Choral Society.

When COVID-19 shut down just about every facet of society – especially the arts in Durango – in 2020, DCS was preparing to travel to Florence, Italy, to sing Vivaldi’s “Gloria” on the Baroque composer’s home turf.

And to add insult to injury: DCS was also in the middle of its 50th season celebration.

“We had one rehearsal, which was on March 10, 2020. Then two days later, the country got shut down. So we had one rehearsal for this glorious piece and the world collapsed on us, and we haven’t given a concert since,” said DCS Director/Conductor Linda Mack Berven.

If you go

What: Durango Choral Society presents “Viva Vivaldi!”

When: 7 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Roshong Recital Hall, Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.

Tickets: $20, available online at https://bit.ly/3C0FKoR.

More Information: Visit durangochoralsociety.org.

Note: Masks are required.

So with the trip canceled, as well as any live performances for the forseeable future, the group got creative – creating virtual shows that featured live past performances, new virtual material and prerecorded videos of Mack Berven giving her famous preconcert talks.

“My learning curve was vertical in terms of producing the virtual concerts we put out last year,” she said. “It was helpful to us – and people were so generous, supporters and donors – to help us stay afloat, although we weren’t able to give any live performances.”

Now, DCS is returning to the stage with the performance they were supposed to give in Florence. “Gloria” will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Roshong Recital Hall at Fort Lewis College. The Choral Society is making the show as safe as possible, Mack Berven said, which was something they decided on as a group.

That decision included having to sing while wearing masks.

“When we finally were approaching the fall, there was a decision to be made, and that is with choir being one of the last entities to return, given the COVID protocols, we knew that we would have to sing in masks,” she said. “I spoke to the choir and said, ‘Look, if we want to sing, we’ll have to wear masks, and how do you feel about that?’ And I thought maybe 20 people or so might want to do this, well, 50 people almost immediately responded, ‘Yes, yes! I want to sing! I don’t care, I’ll wear a mask.’ Which was a surprise to me, but a good surprise.”

That surprise also came with a handful of challenges, including selecting masks specifically for singing – they ended up going with masks used by Broadway performers, which they found through the Broadway Relief Project.

“We look like ducks because they have these great big black bills on them,” Mack Berven said. “But they need that space in front of their mouth to be able to breathe properly, to sing and also to project. The thing that’s hard is that you can’t really look down at your music very well because the duck bills stick out. But we have figured it out and they’re holding their folders a little higher and they’ve made adjustments.”

The group has also had to adjust for diction while wearing the masks – Mack Berven had to use a microphone during rehearsal to be heard by the singers – and one other challenge she hadn’t expected.

“We realized a couple of weeks ago that it’s a little bit harder to hear each other when they’re wearing the mask, and so in order to make the tuning and the sound better, I put them in what’s called a mixed position, so when the audience looks at us, they’re going to see not all the sopranos in one section and all the men in one section, I’ve got them scattered around,” she said. “So I might have a tenor standing next to a soprano, or an alto in between a bass and a tenor. ... It was a lot of experimentation because we’ve never had to do this before.”

And when the 50 singers and instrumentalists gather Saturday to give Antonio Lucio Vivaldi – that red-haired, Catholic priest who also ran a girls orphanage and just happened to also be a composer – his due with their performance of “Gloria,” it will be the continuation of a sweet, albeit slightly uncomfortable, homecoming for the Choral Society.

“The first night we were back together, people were crying because they were so happy. And you know, it’s hot wearing a mask and it’s not always comfortable – I come home and the back of my ears are raw. But they are willing to do this because they just love that choral art, and they just love being with their choral family,” she said. “There have been a huge number of alterations that we just had to do in order to make this happen, but they wanted it so badly that we just kept going.”


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