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No European Tour But Fairfield Choir Draws Thousands As It Calms With 'Troubled Waters'

The Fairfield County Children's Choir sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in a video seen by thousands on Facebook.
The Fairfield County Children's Choir sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in a video seen by thousands on Facebook. Photo Credit: Fairfield County Children's Choir

Dates at European concert halls may be canceled, but a calming "Bridge Over Troubled Water" virtual performance by Fairfield County Children's Choir posted on Facebook drew 17,000 views so far.

The moving cadence of young voices singing Paul Simon's lyrics as "When evening falls so hard. I will comfort you. I'll take your part, oh, when darkness comes" is perfect in these unsettled times. The video has a message of comfort and celebrates the power of children singing separately, but together. 

The virtual video came months since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) ended all in-person rehearsals though the music education continued along with the practice.

The performance is dedicated to "all the front-line health care workers and first responders who have indeed been our 'Bridge Over Troubled Water,' and to all the families who are suffering and have lost loved ones," says the post. The information includes requests for donations to the COVID-19 Support Fund for Bridgeport Hospital/Yale New Haven Health in memory of Mary Avila, the grandmother of choir Conductor Jacqueline Sugrue-Tait.

When Music Director and Founder Jon Noyes realized upcoming events — including their 25th Anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall and their summer concert tour of France and Belgium — would be postponed, he wanted to raise the choir's spirits. 

"It is important in times like these to join together to make and share music," said Noyes.

Over the past two months, FCCC developed this virtual choir, along with virtual rehearsals, social media challenges and more to stay connected to its students.

"The Fairfield County Children's Choir remains dedicated to our 300 children, their families and our community during this unique time. We may be separated, but we continuously look for creative ways to stay connected to our community and make music together," said Executive Director, Sarah Duff. "We embrace the capability of music to bring comfort." 

Wondering how virtual rehearsals work? Duff explains. "Our goal is to teach and to stay connected to the students. We split our rehearsal approach into these two areas, teach and stay connected. We learned that there is no ideal technology that allows for a distance rehearsal in real-time. When we sadly suspended rehearsals due to (COVID-19), we immediately had out conductors make rehearsal recordings of each part for their singers. This was great to have for the first few weeks at home," Duff explained.

The choir has adapted into a new rhythm with weekly rehearsals in which the conductor sings or plays a phrase or song, then each chorister sings it back. 

"To make it work, due to the technology, each chorister must mute their microphone so that we cannot hear them due to delay and distortion issues. But, we can teach each singer their part — which is terrific," Duff said.

In addition, the singers have built a close social group so there is time for socializing at these rehearsals as well.

"Our kids miss their conductors and their friends. So each rehearsal, we give them time to connect and share and smile. We just added grade-level social meetings, with the hope that smaller groups will allow each chorister to be more involved in the conversation. This was very well received," Duff said.

The choir directors and conductors all work from home. The conductors, Duff said, are also music teachers in Fairfield and Westport public schools. The piano player featured in the video is accompanist Donna Beatty. The video may be seen here and here.

The Fairfield County Children's Choir (FCCC) is a community-based choral program made up of four choirs, and over 300 children in grades four through twelve from across Fairfield County. 

Simon and Garfunkel "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It was initially released in 1970 on Columbia Records.

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