‘Aurora Singers’ hit a pandemic high note with global audience

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AURORA | In the middle of December, Tanner Kelly noticed an unusual note in the inbox of the Aurora Singers’ Facebook Messenger account.

A man from eastern China was inquiring when he would be able to access the digital stream of The Singers’ holiday showcase entitled “Let It Snow.” The performance was set to go live at 7 p.m. Dec. 12, although the group’s newest Chinese fan seemingly hadn’t accounted for the some-14-hour time difference between Aurora and his home country. 

“He messaged our Facebook page at 3 a.m. his time asking for the concert because he didn’t realize the time delay,” said Kelly, who has served as artistic director for the Aurora Singers for the past three years. “When it did premier, he shared it and none of us in the group knew him … It was pretty amazing.”

That late-night missive from the other side of the globe proved to be emblematic of The Singers’ digital-heavy 2020, which featured a series of virtual concerts that netted views from 40 states and seven countries. The unexpected global reach that resulted in views from Mexico, Germany, France, Denmark and other nations has been a boon for the traditionally hyper-local troupe. 

First formed in 1977, the local choral group has performed seasonal showcases at the East Middle School theater since the mid-aughts, typically belting their meticulously rehearsed tunes and dance numbers before crowds of about 200 people, Kelly said. 

The choir’s fall show entitled “Decade of Fun” clocked 665 views, which is about double the combined attendance of a pair of typical Saturday night and Sunday matinee shows.

“Not only did we match, but we exceeded (attendance),” said Kelly, who also works as an administrator at the Parker Performing Arts School and a musical theater director at Regis University in Denver. 

The views were the upshot of regular Zoom rehearsals and some clever audio alchemy by Kelly, who mixed The Singers’ voices together and matched the final product to lip-synced performances recorded over Zoom. 

And The Singers were not the only Aurora arts group that saw a bump in audience attendance and reach in 2020 despite the havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I know we definitely were reaching a much broader audience,” said Bernie Cardell, artistic director of The Vintage Theatre in the Aurora Cultural Arts District. “ … We’ll have a number of views the night of, from people who watch us as we do the live stream from the theater, and then like three times the number of views over the next week. It’s been pretty amazing to see.”

Cardell has helped stage about 20 virtual cabaret performances based out of the Vintage over the past year, all of which have wound up with views far larger than the capacity of the haunt on Dayton Street. One of the shows last year boasted more than 1,000 in its first weekend online. 

“Obviously people want entertainment while they’re staying safe at home,” Cardell said. 

The Sentinel was unable to reach representatives from the Aurora Fox, Vintage Theater and the Aurora Symphony orchestra by press deadline. But each entity has also offered virtual performances throughout the pandemic.

Officials across the country have trumpeted that magnetism toward robust artistic programming Cardell described, even though furloughs and forced closures decimated myriad arts groups last year. 

“Right now, art, art-making, and creativity in all its forms are more important than ever….. It is one of the key things sustaining us while we are cocooning at home—keeping us connected to friends, family, and strangers around the world through collective concerts, creative uses of museum collections, and lots of archival materials now publicly accessible,” Amy Gilman, director of the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, said in a report published by the National Endowment for the Arts earlier this year. “And it is what will nourish us as we adjust to the new normal of a post-COVID-19 world.”

The national arts wing of the federal government unveiled optimistic news last week when President Joe Biden recommended $201 million for the group in his annual budget proposal, a nearly 25% increase from the allocation granted in 2020.

Kelly and The Singers are also slated for a more sanguine 2021 thanks, in part, to a planned move into a new performance space at Heather Gardens this fall. He said the Aurora community that is home to mostly older residents is well suited for the group’s 20-some dedicated singers, several of whom have been involved for more than three decades. 

“It’s great for our demographic because now they can just walk,” he said. 

And however artistic programming unfolds across the metroplex this year, Kelly said The Singers are likely to keep a digital version of their shows available indefinitely. 

“ … We’re considering whatever the new normal is going to be in the fall, and we may keep streaming in the future.”

After all, he still has to reach viewers in all 50 states. 

“I wrote down the 10 states without any viewers; I know Idaho, Maine, Montana and North Dakota were on there,” he said. “And I’ve been telling our members that if we have any family members in these states, let’s get people watching.”

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