The legacy of Flanders: organizing choir festivals during the pandemic
How the world's largest international choir competition became successful despite Covid
Since the beginning of the pandemic, choral singing has been considered the most dangerous hobby in the world. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: choirs all over the world want to sing, rehearse and perform in front of an audience. International choir festivals are among the most exciting performance opportunities for choirs. Here they have the opportunity to see and hear other singers from other countries, to exchange ideas and learn from each other. How can such events be held successfully and, above all, safely in times of a worldwide pandemic?
The World Choir Games 2021 have proved it.
„You all pulled off a miracle, and the smiles & harmonies washed away 18 months of COVID!"
Deke Sharon (USA), member of the jury
When it became clear at the beginning of 2020 that the corona virus was spreading rapidly around the world, it soon became clear that the World Choir Games 2020 would not be able to take place as originally planned. In fact, it would be another 16 months before international choirs would finally come together in Flanders and the host cities of Antwerp and Ghent. And it became a whole special event full of emotions, relief and great successes!
But how did this became possible? Contrary to earlier expectations, the pandemic is still not over in autumn/winter 2021 - nevertheless, the World Choir Games are remembered as a successful and, above all, safe event.
First of all, this is thanks to the excellent cooperation with the local partners, the Local Organizing Committee. In the 16 months since the first postponement, the program had to be rescheduled several times and adapted to the current circumstances, but the primary goal was always to make this event possible and to create the best possible conditions for all participants.
„It has been more than a pleasure for me to take part in your wonderful event and my compliments go to you for your ideas and vision that bring such a fantastic result. The World Choir Games are an impressive example for the artistic and social power of choral music!
And especially in this pandemic period, you helped all of us – choral conductors, singers and specialists, also the audience - to feel happy and joyful after two years of painful silence.”
Theodora Pavlovitch (Bulgaria), member of the jury
Health and safety as top priority
Keeping the health of all participants in focus, everything was done to ensure the safety of all participants. With rising incidences in Belgium, the previously established rules were even adapted and implemented again at short notice during the World Choir Games.
As the most crucial measure, the entire event took place under strict 3G conditions: Those who wanted to participate had to be either vaccinated, recovered or tested. International choirs were given the opportunity to be tested by mobile teams upon arrival, and test centers were set up at the major events and Celebration Concerts where all choirs and interested spectators could be tested free of charge before being allowed to enter the venues.Great thanks for the smooth running of the event go to the numerous volunteers from Flanders, who tirelessly checked the relevant certificates at the doors.
The venues themselves were additionally equipped with CO2 measuring devices so that, if necessary, immediate intervention was possible and a concert could be interrupted in order to ventilate the room.
Furthermore, the organizers adjusted the course of the competitions to the current conditions as well. In other words, stage rehearsals and competition performances directly followed each other, in contrast to previous events, so that the choirs did not have to go from one location to the other very often. In addition, there was a longer break between each choir performance, which was used for ventilation and at the same time prevented the individual groups from running into each other backstage.
Nevertheless, all these security measures would have been unsuccessful if all participants had not followed them in an exemplary way - from proofs of their status, longer waiting times before entering the venues to the obligation to wear masks backstage and in contact with team members. Once again, the choral scene has proven that they are managing the Corona situation responsibly and are willing to stick to all the rules to finally get back to doing what they love: Singing and experiencing music together!
We’re so happy with our award (Gold) and we really enjoyed the preparation to this competition. Despite COVID-19, we managed to find back our level we had in March 2020 just before the lockdowns. It has been quite a challenge to come to this level again in only 4 months (we started again in May but stopped during summer holidays). All our members were very excited to attend the different concerts and workshops.
A choir event of inclusion and innovation
From the beginning, the World Choir Games in Flanders were introduced as the "most inclusive Games" ever. For three years, the organizers had worked to involve different people from different backgrounds and to put on an event that emphasized togetherness and solidarity. A message that has been given added importance by the difficulties of the pandemic.
In this respect, it was a matter of principle not to exclude anyone - especially those choirs that could not be present live on site due to travel restrictions in their countries. The first step to enable them to participate was the launch of a Virtual Competition. Choirs could submit video recordings of their performance or a Virtual Choir video clip in this competition, which were viewed and evaluated by the jurors during the event in Flanders.
In the second step, a "Virtual Village" was created, where, among other things, live streams of the main events and recordings of all competition performances in Flanders were broadcast. The audience could also participate in virtual workshops and even meet and network with each other in a virtual café. And in order not to exclude anyone here either, the Local Organizing Committee had made this offer available free of charge worldwide until November 30, 2021.
Success for the World Choir Games and everybody involved
And so, in the end, the World Choir Games 2021 exceeded all expectations. In total, more than 300 choirs participated live and digitally in the 11th edition of the World Choir Games. Around 17,000 spectators admired their talent at the various Ceremonies, Competitions and Celebration Concerts. The free Friendship Concerts in Antwerp, Ghent and the entire Flanders region also attracted around 7,000 visitors.And this is why also Games Director of the Local Organizing Committee Koenraad De Meulder looks back on the past edition with great pride:
“What seemed impossible, we made possible during the 11th edition of the World Choir Games.
Being able to sing again, stand on a stage and enjoy together - it was a gift from heaven.
We will continue the momentum of the 11th edition and give even more people the chance to sing together.”