Out & About: Juneberry community choir director starts virtual choir with upbeat tunes

  • Patricia Norton, founder of the Juneberry community choir, has started a virtual singing group called Pocket Song Singers. (Upper Valley Music Center photograph) Upper Valley Music Center photograph

  • The Upper Valley Music Center plans to close Monday on the purchase of a Colburn Park building that is now inhabited by the Downs Rachlin Martin law firm. Pedestrians walk past the building in Lebanon, N.H., Thursday, March 16, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/2/2020 9:25:11 PM
Modified: 4/2/2020 9:24:59 PM

LEBANON — Patricia Norton, who founded the Juneberry community choir group which is made up more than 70 singers throughout the Upper Valley and is based at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon, is used to leading a choir of dozens of people.

This weekend, she will start a new choir that also has dozens of people. Except Norton won’t be able to see all of them at once. Due to social distancing practices put into place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Norton’s students will be behind a screen and so will she.

Pocket Song Singers will meet virtually for the first time from 4-5 p.m. on Sunday and 10-11 a.m. on Tuesdays for eight weeks. Participants can sign up for one or both sessions and participants may pay what they can, whether that be $10 or $50. They could also take the class for free.

“The best pocket songs are really good alone and they get even better when you sing them with other people. There are ways that they can harmonize or be made more complex when there are more voices than just one, but they’re still really good alone,” Norton said. “The song itself is short, but they’re often repeated over and over again. You can sing a pocket song for five minutes, but maybe just one time through it is only 30 seconds long. But it’s a song that’s so satisfying to repeat that it can last for a long time.”

The children’s tune Row Row Your Boat qualifies as pocket song, Norton said. Amazing Grace does, too.

After registering, participants will be sent a link to log in to Zoom. They will be muted while Norton teaches and will not be able to hear the other participants, who are singing along with Norton from their own homes.

“My thought is that here we are all stuck with our computers and what if during this time we’re all stuck inside we learn all of these really cool songs?” Norton said. “Then, when we gather together we’d all know the songs and we can sing them with each other.”

Once the pandemic passes, Norton hopes the Pocket Song Singers can meet in person — perhaps at Colburn Park in Lebanon — for a concert.

The Juneberry chorus was in the process of preparing for its spring concert when the pandemic hit. At first, Norton kept the group going remotely, but it was difficult.

“We love the sounds of voices together. In parts. In harmony. That’s not physically possible with the technology tools that we have at our disposal right now,” Norton said. “Pocket Songs is a different offering. It’s not choral music.”

But it could help people who miss singing with one another, either with Juneberry or another organization, feel like they’re still connected to part of a larger choir even if they’re technically singing alone.

The group also provides an opportunity for people who like to sing, but aren’t quite comfortable singing in a group.

“You’re singing at home, you’re on mute, you can sign with all of your voice,” Norton said.

The program is open to people of all ages and might a particularly good fit for families with small children.

“This case, they can run around your living room,” Norton said. “They might distract you, but they’re not going to distract anyone else. In that way, it’s really welcoming for families and I think easier for families with kids.”

Within a day of announcing the program, close to 60 people had already signed up, said Erin Jenkins Smith, assistant director at the Upper Valley Music Center.

“It does validate our thought that people really want a chance to get together,” Smith said. “There is a ton of content online out there right now and very professionally produced things that you can do online, but there is still a very big value in having something that’s local to the Upper Valley.”

“People want to support their local community,” Smith added, “They want to support their local artists and musicians if they’re able to.”

Editor’s note: For more information or to sign up for Pocket Song Singers, visit uvmusic.org/news/clas ses/pocket-song-singers. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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