Contemporary Journalism Students Pave the Way in the Canadian Choir Podcast Scene with inChoir T.O.
“Anyone can start a podcast, but not everyone can have this great idea,” says Ellin Bessner, Instructor in the Contemporary Journalism and Journalism programs at Centennial. Ellin is referring to inChoir T.O., a podcast that two Contemporary Journalism students, Meredith Omstead and Akrit Michael, created in their podcasting course. The podcast, which currently has four episodes, follows a new choir called Voices Rock Medicine- a group of women physicians based in Toronto that have come together because of their love of music. Ellin says, “To find out why people sing and how it helps them socially, psychologically, and with mental stress, especially for these physicians who are in the front lines of COVID-19, is really great. They come together and they learn how to sing and they find this camaraderie and confidence.” inChoir T.O. is at the forefront of Canadian choir podcasts, as Ellin states that there are “no podcasts on the Canadian choir scene” even though choirs make up such a large segment in Canada. She says, “Whether it’s from your church choir, or when you were in Grade 4 and you had to do your concert for your parents, choirs are a big part of life and they always have been for centuries.”
The podcasting course, taken by both Contemporary Journalism and Journalism students, requires them to create a brand new, totally niche podcast with a logo, a business plan, and a PodBean account. Students then host, record, edit, upload and handle their social media, all within seven weeks. Students in the three-year Journalism program were introduced to the podcast project before reading week which means due to COVID-19, they had to change how they carried out the project. Ellin says, “They couldn’t use the studio, they couldn’t come into the school and edit, they couldn’t bring their guests in, they couldn’t be together in groups of two or three… it had to all be done in a new way.” Nonetheless, the various podcasts they created were extremely engaging. Ellin explains, “One of them was about living with disabilities during COVID-19 called, What You Don’t Know About Me, which is about a fellow who has cystic fibrosis, and it was really well done. Another one was called SZL which is a food blog podcast that includes recipes of their family, highlighting their Filipino, Pakistani, and Italian backgrounds.” Ellin says all of the podcasts were extremely well done, especially with the interruption COVID-19 brought.
Students in the one-year Contemporary Journalism program finished their podcast projects right before reading week, which in contrast to the Journalism students, they were able to access the school’s equipment. Ellin says, “Contemporary Journalism students had nine new podcasts this semester which are awesome. One of them is called Pandemic Panic and they started it in January not knowing how this was going to be so it was super timely; another one highlights different generations, where they interviewed individuals of various ages about life from different perspectives.” inChoir T.O. was also created by Contemporary Journalism students and Ellin says that they are planning on continuing their podcast even though the semester is over. “I had a small role; I was their managing editor and gave them sound design ideas, but it’s really well done. They were there before the pandemic, so they did get the benefit of the studio, but now they have to do it social distancing. It was a wonderful pleasure to listen to how it started, how they evolved it, and where it could go from here as it gets better and better.”
Meredith Omstead, co-host of inChoir T.O., outlines the experience from starting the podcast, to where it is now:
“Akrit and I met in the fall semester and instantly bonded over our love of music. He and I both grew up singing in choirs and enjoy breaking out in song randomly (we are THOSE people). Choirs and music aren't something we were used to reporting on as journalists, and it's more of a hobby that we do to take our mind off the stress of life– I tend to write stories on global affairs, politics and social justice, and Akrit does too. When it came time to do a podcast for Ellin's course, we knew we wanted to do one together but couldn't think of a topic that was unique and specific. We were sitting at a café brainstorming ideas, and the conversation about doing a podcast on the Toronto choir scene came up organically. Sometimes your hobbies or the things you do outside of ‘work’ become the best inspiration for stories.
inChoir T.O. is about revolutionary choirs in Toronto. All the unique choirs that inspired us, we knew about and wanted to tell their stories. For example, a choir for medical professionals, an acapella rock choir that travels to New York to sing at Carnegie Hall, a choir conductor who is also a full-time pianist for the Royal Canadian Ballet. We decided that the first season would be about Voices Rock Medicine (VRM), an un-auditioned rock choir of women physicians. We've interviewed the founder, music director and members of the choir.
Our goal with inChoir T.O. is to make people realize that choir isn't just something your grandma sings in at church. We hope our listeners become excited about what being in a choir has to offer and make the prospect of joining a choir less scary, even for those who only sing in their shower!
We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to create a podcast for course credit in the Contemporary Journalism program. Podcasts are a rapidly growing medium for storytelling, and it was fun to learn the technical side of podcasting at school. The Story Arts Centre is a creative hub for students entering the workforce, and Akrit and I are grateful to have taken a class that helped inspire and start inChoir T.O..I don't think people realize how much time goes into creating a podcast – even before the first episode has been recorded – and Ellin's class allowed us to have allotted time each week to focus on the planning, scriptwriting, interviewing, recording and editing.
The class ended at the end of February. Akrit and I completed the mandatory trailer and two episodes for our podcasting class. Still, we were so inspired by the stories we heard that we decided to continue making a full season of four episodes. Initially, the storyline was about how the choir came to be, the benefits of being in a choir, and preparing for a concert. But, after we finished our second episode, the pandemic hit. Not only did we have to learn to record over Zoom, but we had a huge opportunity to tell the story through a new lens – VRM is made up of the frontline workers of the pandemic. The most recent episode we recorded was about how a choir runs during coronavirus and how VRM has made a positive impact on Canadians' lives. The choir was even featured on Canada's Stronger Together benefit concert. I've learned that it's essential to be flexible in your storytelling, and the most creative work can come out of constraints – like a pandemic.
It's been enjoyable to work on this project and tell the story of such an inspiring group of women.”
Meredith and Akrit’s podcast, along with all of the other immensely engaging podcasts made this year, demonstrates the creativity and storytelling skills stemming from all of the students in the Contemporary Journalism and Journalism programs.
Be sure to check out inChoir T.O. and happy listening!
By: Alexandra Few