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  • Writer's pictureIda Olsonen

Peer-Support Needed

Phew, last week was quite a week! The fifth week on distance was packed with different emotions, quick action, disappointments, bliss, miscommunications and everything inbetween. In my female choir, big desicions regarding the near future are being made, which in turn means a massive pivot in our rehearsal agenda. With the mixed choir, we're slowly gaining an organisational overview of our ventures. I have managed to maintain a motivated mindset, feeling very grateful for the opportunity to actually work in the middle of all the changes, and feel somewhat useful.

Photography by Kirsi Tunkkari

In the middle of this all, I realized that I had somehow avoided writing about one of the core aspects that has been carrying me through this weird time. It is something that is intrinsically present in this entire blogging venture too, namely: peer support. I am very lucky to have a great network of peer conductors, educators and artist alike. This network has, if possible, become stronger and more active amidst the current crisis. During the few days leading to my first week of distance rehearsals, an impromptu Zoom meeting emerged amongst my conductor friends. We talked, tested out different solutions and shared ideas during two intense hours. Already then new introductions where made between people who hadn't met face-to-face. We decided to agree on a new date a week later, and invite all interested friends too. It turned into a weekly un-official agreement. This virtual combination of a peer-learning environment and a coffee table was my first forum for professional peer support for the matters at hand. Soon I also joined meetings and webinars by both my alma mater, Danish the Royal Academy of Aarhus/Aalborg, and the Dutch Vocal Leadership -program. Tons of private messages and voice memos were sent back and forth, and I spent many prolonged lunch hours on the phone, sharing both successes and frustrations about running choirs from home. It has been intense, but I would not have it any other way. Being able to both connect and help has provided me with a lot of meaning, both personally and professionally. It has been incredibly important to not be alone in this situation.

Resonans, the magazine for the Swedish speaking choir's and orchestras association, Finlands Svenska Sång och Musikförbund, visited one of my first distance sessions (I think it was week two?), and wrote a heartfelt article about it. After its' publication, I started getting messages and phone calls from all over the country. "So how is the distance thing working?" many asked. "Our choir is on a total break", others sighed. "I really miss our choir", someone wrote. This made me realize how privileged I had been with my closest colleagues being both tech-savvy, quick to think on their feet and able to share information in the middle of these tumultuous times. In our next informal meeting with conductor colleagues, I mentioned this to the colleagues I knew to be a part of the board of the Finnish Choral Conductors' Association. We needed to do something to spread the information further, at least in our home country.

So a little more than three days ago I held a presentation at the Finnish Choral Conductors' Associations first ever distance webinar. My contribution, "What Happens In Distance Rehearsals, And How To Get The Most Out Of Them" was presented back to back with an insightful presentation about the technical basics and excellent hosting of an open discussion. As the attendee-number kept growing and big names of the field (many former teachers and/or paragons of mine) were popping up on the screen, I had to pace myself. We had succeeded over all expectations in catching our colleagues attention and attract people from all around the country to the event. Now we needed to deliver. Serving a heterogeneous group with various previous knowledge was a challenge, but meeting with over a third of the associations members felt significant. The discussion after the presentations and Q&A was very genuine, open and supportive. Judging by the feedback we got, the session was a success, and very much appreciated by the participants. This reinforced my belief in the importance of peer support. We conductors differ a lot in personalities and approaches to the current challenge, but we all share the desire to make something good out of it. Talking about that made us all stronger and somehow more at ease with the situation. So wherever you are, whatever associations, groups or friend circles you belong to - don't be afraid of reaching out and connecting with your colleagues. Hearing the thoughts of others in similar situations is comforting and relieving in itself. We're in this together. As we speak, Suomen Kuoronjohtajayhdistys is preparing the next webinar/meeting with a bunch of case studies and even more sharing of experiences. I am so grateful to be a part of this! My next blog post will be an expansion of one of the topics I presented at the webinar; goals for rehearsing as a choir on distance, and how articulating that has given me clarity and motivation. I am very much looking forward to share thoughts with you. Until that, take care!

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