Rekindling hope for a better world, one song at a time

Among the many activities that fell dormant during the pandemic, choral singing was one of the most obvious. It was, after all, a choir that provided one of the first American COVID-19 horror stories: On March 10, 2020, the Skagit Valley Chorale met for a regular rehearsal just as cases in Washington state were starting to spread. Three weeks later, two members were dead, several more were hospitalized and dozens were sick with COVID-19.

The Anchorage Concert Chorus, where I sing in the bass section, held its last in-person rehearsal of 2020 on March 9, the day before Skagit Valley held theirs. Of course, we didn’t know it was the last that evening when we met at Central Lutheran Church for what was supposed to be one of the final Monday rehearsals before our March 28 concert, and we didn’t know just how big a risk singing unmasked for two hours would soon become. But awareness of COVID-19 was spreading, and it was already starting to feel like a risk to meet in person.

On March 13, the choir’s leadership confirmed what we feared: There would be no concert, and we wouldn’t meet again in person that season. The email announcing the decision closed, “Please stay healthy and safe, and I hope to see you all when we reconvene next season in August.”

Then came a year in the wilderness. Returning to in-person rehearsals in August 2020, we soon discovered, was hopelessly optimistic. Trying to make the best of a bad situation, the choir met via Zoom, and tried to sing “together” through virtual means — there was too much lag in the videoconference to sing in real time, but software allowed members to record parts on their own and then have them stitched together digitally in post-production, creating a choir from dozens of people singing in quiet rooms alone.

I sat through the first two or three Zoom meetings, but the inability to sing together — really together, not as files mashed together after the fact — hurt my heart. The Zoom calls, instead of helping me feel a sense of community, made the choir meetings feel like work, and I tapped out. That winter, I discovered exactly how much I had relied on making music with other people to get me through the darkness.

I wasn’t alone. The questions about meeting in person began early this year, and by midsummer, the plan for in-person rehearsals was set: Vaccinations required. Masks required. Negative COVID tests within 72 hours before rehearsal required. Given the furor over a local mask mandate and the size of the chorus (100-plus members), you might think it was a tough call, but no — with only a few exceptions, members gladly accepted the agreed-upon rules. We understood that it was the best way to keep vulnerable members of the choir safe, and that was the only path for having singing together make sense.

So we gathered in the fall to rehearse for our first concert in two years. For the past 18 months, the weaponization of politics and a brutal pandemic have stoked divisions in our communities, to the point that some have wondered if it’s possible to find our way back to a city where people are able to work together despite our differences.


When we opened our music for the first time, I was struck: Despite the chaos, despite the fractiousness, despite the hate we’ve dealt with — and continue to deal with — the music was unchanged, still as melodic and full of hope as it was when we last sang together in 2019. It was still as hopeful, in fact, as it was the day it was set to paper in the first place. “Shalom,” read the lyrics of composer Dan Forrest’s song of the same name. “Peace — I give to you peace.”

There are plenty of reasons why it’s a good idea to pause at this time of year and reflect on our blessings, who we are and who we might be. But it’s the lesson of the music that stays with me: We’re capable of being better. We can be kinder. We can forgive those who have wronged us, and those we’ve wronged can forgive us, too. We can still be the people and the community that are the best versions of ourselves. And there’s no reason we can’t start today.

Tom Hewitt is the opinion editor for the Anchorage Daily News. He sings bass in the Anchorage Concert Chorus, which will hold its annual holiday concert Dec. 19 at the Atwood Concert Hall.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Tom Hewitt

Tom Hewitt is opinions editor of the ADN. He previously was editorial page editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and news director of KTVF and KXDF in Fairbanks.