The COVID-19 pandemic sent businesses, organizations and communities to a screeching halt last March, including the vibrant community of Church Street choirs. 

An active ministry, the adult choir boasts 60 members, the youth choir 50 and the children’s choir 25, and the handbells choir, on average, has 12 members at a time. Although each choir member hasn’t been present during each Zoom, the adult choir has gained three new members during the pandemic. 

Once it was evident that a shutdown would cause a shift to virtual worship, Director of Music Tim Ward knew recording would be the natural starting place. 

Virtual worship quickly became the norm. Organist Edie Johnson coordinated singers and musicians, while Ward recorded and music secretary Eileen Weber edited the audio and video of each virtual piece.

“We decided a long time ago, ‘we’ve got to make this work,’ and so we did,” Ward says.

Making it work has relied heavily on the creativity of Ward, Johnson, Weber and the members of each choir. Johnson says she’s enjoyed including all ages, even if it has to be virtually. 

“We’ve really kept the entire community engaged even when we can’t meet in person,” Johnson says. “By having the children and the youth in the virtual choirs, it’s been able to involve a lot of people.” 

Each choir soon found a way after the shutdown to sing or play to a new tune, with five recitals and countless virtual choirs produced since March 2020. 

Learning new skills, getting creative

Weber wasn’t a video and audio editor prior to the shutdown. Although her previous experience was limited, she quickly learned how to separate audio from video, combine audio to make individual voices blend into one choir and then add back the video previously separated.

Each virtual choir member is sent a video or audio file to practice before recording. Weber then takes each individual member’s video submission to create the final combined piece.

“It’s been a creative outlet that I think has been so rewarding for me,” Weber says. “I’ve been more excited about this kind of work and I’m so grateful to Tim and Edie and the ideas that spring from their minds to keep all this going.”

As a member of the adult choir, Weber has also taken on a teaching role, as she helps choir members understand the best lighting and sound setups to get the highest quality video and sound.

In addition to at-home recordings, Ward has been lead cameraman on the recording of soloists in the nave and Johnson’s organ playing for worship services, and he has learned new ways to capture each music presentation. Soloists have been recorded by as many as three cameras at once, and a dancer for one of the virtual recitals was recorded from six different angles. 

“I wanted to make everything up close and personal and didn’t want to record from far away,” Ward says. 

Another way that virtual worship has allowed for more personal connections is through the organ pieces. Each recording shows Johnson’s face, hands and feet as she plays. 

“That’s a new connection that people have made,” Ward says. “They’re able to see what Edie does, and before, no one saw it unless you got to sit by her in the choir.” 

Making new connections, even over Zoom 

While many have felt less connected than before the pandemic, Ward and Johnson have made sure that members’ needs are put before singing and presentations. 

Rehearsals and meetings immediately started to provide connection for each choir. Ward met nearly every  Wednesday night with the adult choir, and Johnson with the children’s choir every other week in the summer and weekly during the spring and fall.

In a typical year, members usually arrive, practice and then leave and don’t normally stick around to chat or get to know one another outside of who they sit next to each week. 

“In the adult choir, it’s amazing to me that people knew faces, but they didn’t know names,” Ward says. “This has really allowed people to put a name with a face. I had several people say, ‘You know, I know more now.’”

Weber says she’s also created more connections in the youth and children’s choirs and the handbell choir than she had previously. 

“I’ve actually learned more people than I knew before at Church Street. That’s been very rewarding to me,” Weber says. “Now I feel like I know some of the youth choir and have had a really good time joshing around with them or exchanging comments.” 

Members of the adult choir are now known for offering any and all information they can about vaccines, and offer help when it comes to groceries and other tasks. Ward says that they’ve included time on each Zoom to connect and check in with each other before singing in order to provide a bridge while apart. 

Johnson also invited a teacher to lead conversation related to the Alexander Technique, which is a way of learning how you can get rid of harmful tension in the body. Members learned more about ways to cope with anxiety, loneliness and other issues produced by the pandemic.

Looking forward to in-person worship opportunities, new recitals

As the church reopens for Sunday worship opportunities, Ward is excited to have in-person music at both the 8:30 am and 11 am services. 

On March 14, an eight-piece ensemble sang all musical pieces for the service , and that will stay the same until Easter Sunday when additional choir members will join in the balconies.

“Your vocal chords are a muscle,” Ward says. “Just like with weight lifting, if you don’t use them every week, the muscles go away.”

Johnson and Weber echo the sentiment, adding that singing together again will help singers strengthen skills they have lost and get back in the practice of having a conductor to follow. 

In addition to a return to worship, a special recital, “Mother Goose, Nursery Tunes and More” will feature clergy and staff members as characters in a variety of well-known children’s tunes, as well as the opportunity to get to know the organ in a more whimsical way 

“I guarantee anyone who watches this won’t be able to help but smile,” Ward says. 

The special recital will premiere on YouTube at 3:30 pm on Sunday, March 21, and a special Meet and Greet will start 30 minutes prior to the premiere on Zoom. 

On any given Sunday, you’ll find Edie Johnson surrounded by the voices of Church Street’s youngest members. 

Starting at three years old, kids are invited to join Kinder Choir, and once they have reached first grade, they move on to Primary Choir. Third through fifth graders join the Chorister Choir, and the Youth Choir is composed of 6-12 graders with some additional college singers. 

And while singing is certainly on the agenda each meeting, Johnson and the music ministry staff have a broader mission.

“Our goal is not to train them to be a professional musician,” Johnson says, “but it’s to train them to be able to participate and understand the [worship] service.” 

Johnson leads the children in exercises and lessons that help them meet that goal. Most weeks, she uses a hymn that will be sung the following Sunday to teach rhythms and music notes — and to also keep the kids moving, which has been key as kids have participated virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For example, Johnson recently taught the refrain of “Lift High the Cross” and asked singers to march to the beat. While they may not have known the words, the kids were learning rhythm through the movements. 

“They’ll hear these or see these in our service and hopefully sing along and do the motions,” Johnson says, adding that she hopes songs like “Away in a Manger” will help kids participate in the virtual Christmas Eve service this year. 

Johnson also hopes she is building confidence in the children not only in singing, but just being in front of audiences. During a normal year of in-person meetings, she asks children to sing on their own as a way to share their skills. 

“When I hear them and see them sing with confidence by themselves, I feel like, ‘okay, this is really the way I want it to be,’” she says. 

Missions Chair and mom to 5-year-old Kinder Choir member Katie Heatherly can already see confidence building in her young daughter. Heatherly is a member of the Church Street Adult Parish Choir and says her daughter often remarks that she feels like she is following in her mom’s footsteps when she sings in the Kinder Choir. 

“She has learned how to feel confident in her ability to sing praises to God,” Heatherly says. “…Hearing her so confident brings joy to my heart.” 

Singing isn’t all you’ll hear from the children’s choirs, though. Johnson often uses games like BINGO and Jeopardy to teach the basics of music theory. Mom to 11-year-old and 8-year-old sisters Maria Dahunsi can see how games have helped them grasp Bible stories, church traditions and music notes. 


The Dahunsi girls, left, record for virtual choir presentations during 2020.



“The children’s choir has provided a rich learning experience which has helped my daughters enhance their singing abilities and confidence standing in front of audiences,” Dahunsi says. 

“My kids singing in the choir reminds me of some hymns I had forgotten and the beauty in hymns. I benefited a lot from my home choir singing as a child and a young adult,” Dahunsi adds. “These experiences had impact on my Christian journey, and I as a parent can see the positive role Church Street’s Children’s Choir is playing in my children’s appreciation of music as well as their spiritual journey.” 

The Dahunsi family has a long line of music lovers, including Maria’s dad who loved hymns so much that he co-authored a book about hymns and the stories behind them. In fact, choir at Church Street is a family affair for many. 

Staci Stalcup’s 14-year-old twins are in the Youth Choir, and her 11-year-old and 9-year-old are in the Children’s Choir. 

“Having all four children involved in the music ministry at Church Street has allowed them to glorify the Lord through the beauty of music,” Stalcup says. “Such a strong impact in their lives and our lives as a family allows us to continue our growth in our work with the Lord.” 

In addition to developing their musical talents, Stalcup says she is thrilled her kids have the opportunity to meet other children and youth who want to praise the Lord through music. Heatherly echoes that sentiment. 

“She has made best friends in choir that I am quite confident will last through her childhood and hopefully last through her lifetime,” Heatherly says. 

Once a month (prior to COVID-19), these young singers join the Adult Parish Choir during worship, and you’ll see some familiar faces in the Family Christmas Eve service on December 24 at 3 pm on YouTube.

Listen to the entire service below.

Parish Adult Choir and instrumentalists present selections from John Rutter’s Requiem, including:
Requiem Aeternam
Pie Jesu
The Lord Is My Shepherd
Out of the Deep
Agnus Dei
Lux Aeterna

Enjoy this presentation of holy music from the Church Street Parish Adult Choir, Youth Choir and Chorister Choir on September 29, 2019.