Ohio May Have Nation’s Only Online Chorus

OHDELA teacher Diana Newlon teaches chorus from her Akron living room.(Photo: Molly Bloom, StateImpact Ohio)
OHDELA teacher Diana Newlon teaches chorus from her Akron living room.(Photo: Molly Bloom, StateImpact Ohio)

One of Ohio’s oldest online schools, the Ohio Distance and Electronic Learning Academy, has added an unusual offering to its course lineup: Chorus.

Usually, OHDELA students log on from their homes across the state to learn English, science, math or other subjects. But now they’re learning how to sing, and how to sing together, even if they are only joined by an internet connection.

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“I don’t know why she’s so nervous. She’s really good.”

Diana Newlon sits on her living room couch leading chorus practice.

With her laptop balanced on one arm of the sofa, she looks at a screen full of videos of girls singing Jingle Bell Rock. Each girl is in her own little square, arranged Brady-Bunch credits style on the screen.

Newlon teaches at the Ohio Distance and Electronic Learning Academy. And she’s the founder of perhaps the only all-online school chorus in the state, or even the nation.

Newlon’s boss, the principal of OHDELA, thought she was crazy when she suggested starting a school chorus last year. OHDELA students live all over Ohio, and take classes entirely online.

Newlon says her boss asked her, “Well, how could you do that?” He told her he didn’t think anyone would come.

He was wrong.

 Lincoln Park, a former housing project on the far south side of Columbus.

Even with little publicity for the chorus, nearly 20 students enrolled this year. They practice online through group video sessions twice a week. Plus they have in-person practices at least once a quarter.

Instead of lining up on risers, they use a video-chat program for the online practices.

They’re there with their bed hair and their pajamas, sitting on their bed sometimes, so they can just [sing] wherever they’re at.

It’s not perfect. Sometimes the sound cuts out or lags.

But a school chorus taught mostly online? Can that even work?

“I feel so,” says Erika Blon. “Because Ms. Newlon is an awesome teacher. She’s there to instruct us and if we have a problem she is right there to say ‘Ok, well say if you have problem with this listen to how I do it.’”

Blon is a senior at OHDELA and a leader of the 20-girl chorus. And yes, it is all girls, for now. The chorus is open to all OHDELA students, but the girls say no guys have had the courage to stick with it for any length of time.

We had a guy last year. Poor guy. Poor thing.

Recently the chorus held one of its in-person practices at OHDELA’s headquarters in a downtown Akron office tower.

Afterwards, as the chorus members got ready to leave, I talked with OHDELA student Hannah Fulks. Hannah has cerebral palsy and her voice sometimes wavers.

But Hannah loves to sing. She wonders whether she’d be welcomed in a “regular” school chorus.

“Would they accept me or not?” Fulks asks. “I’m not sure. These girls all accept me like I’m just another girl, but at regular school I’m not sure if they would be this nice.”

The chorus’s will perform a holiday concert in Akron on Saturday in front of a live audience.

There will be elf hats and Santa costumes and a teacher dressed as the Grinch. Girls who have practiced Jingle Bell Rock and Oh Holy Night via video chat will sing together on stage.

“Other people will get to see what a online school can do…without being together like every day,” Fulks says.

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