Dossier: COVID-19

“Singing creates a sense of togetherness”

Julia Schiwowa is a trained singer – and she and a colleague have really hit the right note with their “Vocal training at 9” videos on YouTube. Well over a thousand people now join them in the mornings at 9 o’clock.

Text: Helwi Braunmiller, photos: Dennis Yulov

Singing is proven to do us good. It reduces physical and psychological stress, relieves anxiety and eases pain. You need to take deep breaths when you sing. It works in a similar way to meditation. And it creates a sense of togetherness: When we sing together our hearts start to beat in unison.

However, this wasn’t on Julia Schiwowa’s (37) mind when she first came up with the idea one Saturday together with her colleague Barbara Böhi. They just wanted to undertake a project during the corona crisis and thought it might be fun to get people to join in with some vocal exercises and singing via a live stream on YouTube. They first gave it a try two days later on a Monday. And 450 people joined in straight away.

How surprised were you by the fact that 450 people joined in with the first “Vocal training at 9”?

Julia Schiwowa: Very! We’d decided that if no more than ten people had joined in after ten days, we’d give up. But by the third day over 1,000 people were watching with more joining all the time. Now between 1,600 and 1,700 watch the live stream once a day and sing along, with at least the same amount watching the videos later.

Do you know who sings along with you?

We’ve let a numberof choirmasters know what we’re doing. So many of our viewers arepeople who sing in choirs and can’t rehearse at the moment. Many viewerslive in Austria and Germany. Some actors and fellow singers also joinin. In addition, there are also many people who simply love to sing andsome of them tell us moving stories.

“Many people like the fact that they can practise at home.”
Julia Schiwowa

What kind of stories do you hear?

For example, someone who has recovered from cancer thanked us for what we’re doing. She thought that her illness meant she could never sing again and she didn’t have the confidence to try. And now she’s realised that she can do it! Many people like the fact that they can practise at home without anyone else listening.

We get a lot of lovely feedback – around 30 emails a day. Many people have written to us saying that “Vocal training at 9” gives them a reason to get up in the morning. Our live stream helps them establish a new routine. It’s really touching. We also get postcards, real works of art and canon collections. And a lot of photos! For example, I said that I love flowers but don’t have a garden, so loads of people sent me pictures of flowers and bouquets.

“When I see that 1,500 people are watching, it’s almost like a performance and my excitement and adrenaline levels rise.”
Julia Schiwowa

You normally sing in front of an audience. Isn’t it strange and a bit lonely to talk and sing only into a camera?

Surprisingly, not at all! The chat brings our performances alive, so it’s actually liver than live! A concert has a strict structure and I know what’s coming next. In front of the camera it’s much more about improvisation and everyone hears everything. 

When I see that 1,500 people are watching, it’s almost like a performance and my excitement and adrenaline levels rise. At the same time, the live chat and singing create a sense of community that is so lacking at the moment. It’s nice that something so simple and that I would do alone everyday anyway can now be done with other people. I really enjoy it.

Like many other artists, you’ve lost work as a result of the lockdown. Do the “Vocal training at 9” videos give you hope for the future?

They certainly give me a reason to get dressed every morning before stepping in front of the camera (laughs). It’s quite funny, because people also thank us for that. The videos don’t replace the concerts, but they have actually opened up new opportunities for me. Several students have already asked me if I would continue teaching them online.

How long do you plan to continue “Vocal training at 9”?

We’ve promised to keep going until choirs can rehearse again. We don’t know when that will be. But who knows: maybe we’ll still continue afterwards?  

Julia Schiwowa

Julia Schiwowa studied and graduated in classical singing in Zurich. Although she can’t give concerts again until after the corona crisis, she doesn’t see that as a reason to sit around twiddling her thumbs. Every morning, alternating with two colleagues, she presents Vocal training at 9 via YouTube –  20 to 30 minutes full of physical, breathing and vocal exercises plus a canon sung together. She lives with her husband and two children in Thalwil.