Is there zoom fatigue in your choir?

I’ve been discussing “Zoom fatigue” today with my choir committee and other colleagues who are running zoom rehearsals in the evenings. This is a particularly challenging problem if your choir has participants who are remote working online during the day – sometimes for 8 hours – before they come to our choir session.

Traditionally, in a choir session you might have all the singers facing the choir leader. You’d be expecting a degree of focus from them towards your input and gesture. I grew up in choirs where it was drilled into me, as a singer, to ‘look at the conductor at all times’.

I’m more relaxed in my community choirs because we are not here to create a musically and visually disciplined performance. Engaged, yes, but we achieve this in other ways.

What do we mean by “zoom fatigue”?

“Zoom fatigue” refers to the mental and physical exhaustion from lengthy video conferencing activites. It can make you feel tired and you can develop headaches. Your energy levels can feel drained. If you feel like this after a day working on zoom, you may feel less motivated to want to participate in activies in the evening also using zoom, even if they provide an important health and social benefits.

The fatigue can be caused by a number of reasons: listening to someone talking with frequent delays due to internet issues; staring at the screen intensely, without giving your short length vision a rest; listening to background noises such as chairs moving/ fingers tapping/coughs can be amplified by microphones; as well as the physical environment you are working in.

Here are some simple steps which may reduce zoom fatigue in our own lives and in our choirs…

Steps you can take as a choir leader:

  • Plan for a variety of singing activities in your rehearsal. Change activity more frequently than you would normally do. Think – are there times when the singers can stand up? Are there moments when the singers can turn their camera off which will aid the learning? Are there opportunities for the singers to go and collect an item, just to get them moving?
  • Ask yourself – do the singers really need to be looking at there camera all of the time? The only person who can give them permission to be flexible with where they look, is you. Encourage them to be flexible. Such a time might be if you are teaching a part. If they are just listening to your voice and singing it back, they might turn off their camera and the added benefit is may develop higher level aural skills too over time, as a result.
  • Provide singers with lyric sheets/ music which they can print at home. Or encourage them to use their scores if they have a score of the music. Alternatively, teach a part or song by ear giving complete freedom to where you and the singer looks.
  • If everyone is unmuted – and I do love this to get a whole choir reaction – be vigilant with singers who have extra sounds coming from their audio stream and mute them. If they are able to, singers can reduce their own microphone level in the audio setting to 30%, to help reduce the pick up of extra unwanted sounds.
  • Plan for breaks on your session, where you can take a break too as the choir leader. This is equally as important. Whilst breakout rooms can be great for rotating sectionals, it also means you may not receive a break. Plan for short activites, such as ice breakers, where the singers can go into the break out rooms for 5-10mins and give you a chance to grab a drink and a rest your vocie and eyes.
  • Accept that it is ok, not to be performing to the camera all of the time as a choir leader. Yes, you will need to look engaged in the session and communicate with your face to the choir, but it is ok to relax look around your space while you are leading.

Steps you can take as a choir singer:

  • If working from home during the day, take a short walk around the block or in the garden, to mark a sense of journey to the session. Fresh air will help if you’ve been online all day and it will help to get into the mind frame of the new activity.
  • If you can, do your choir session in a different room to your work room.
  • Mix up your short and long vision. For example, if it is not too bright, you could place your device on the window sill. You can then alternative between looking out at the view and looking at the screen.
  • If your choir leader asks you to stand up for an activity – do it to help give your mind and body variety.
  • If you feel fatigued, turn off your video and participate aurally in the session. You can close you eyes and still sing. You may actually be more enaged in the learning.
  • Check there are no added sounds in your environment, which may affect the other people session eg. people emptying the dishwasher in the background, phone calls, squeaky chairs, using eating utensils. If you do, mute yourself to help the other people in the session.
  • Use print music where possible instead of looking at the lyrics on the screen.
  • If you are learning the music by ear, why not do another relaxing activity at the same time – just as if you are listening to the radio eg. knitting or drawing.

If you have other suggestions which work for you and your singers, please let us know.