How we put on a virtual charity concert during Covid-19

JJ Khun, founder and lead volunteer of WIILMA, reveals how the charity pulled off their festive end-of-year concert solely online…

Covid-19 couldn’t stop us from hosting and live-streaming a variety concert to people who are isolating.

Our East London charity supports people of all ages affected by isolation – not just during the pandemic, either – using the inclusive appeal of music, arts, crafts, heritage and culture.

We hosted the virtual concert over Christmas, hoping to send out a message that even though we are socially distanced, we are still together. People logged on not just in the borough, but from as far away as South Korea, Brazil and India.

JJ Khun performs during WIILMA’s charity concert (Credit: Anita Hawser)

Of course, there were many challenges. Firstly, finding a venue during tier four restrictions was near impossible. But we found one – thanks to the Antic Pubs & the Libraries service – even though it had been closed for a year.

For two weeks, we spent five hours shifts moving furniture, scrubbing up pigeon droppings from the floorboards and sweeping the stage.

Special thanks must be given to Elizabeth Barrett, Emily Troy and Louise Worral, who worked tirelessly alongside their day jobs to dramatically transform the space into a concert hall with their unbelievable set design skills.

Originally, our concert was to include members of our intergenerational, multilingual community choir and dance groups. These include carers and those who never put themselves first. Typically, WIILMA classes build up their confidence to help them get on stage for the very first time.

One of WIILMA’s volunteers during filming (Credit: Anita Hawser)

However, we weren’t allowed choirs under government guidelines. To enable the concert to go ahead, I took on the vocally-demanding challenge of trying to perform in as many languages as I could, accompanied by six exceptional classical musicians.

In the end, the WIILMA Collective performed renditions including Polish, Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Spanish and Hindi, representing the diverse communities we serve.

We strictly complied with all Covid-19 regulations. That meant I had to become intimately acquainted with the APA Film Industry guidelines: creating health declaration forms, temperature checks with thermometer guns, wiping and spraying every surface, providing endless supplies of hand sanitising gel, masks at all times (when not filming), and putting up countless Covid-19 distancing signs.

Given everything, rehearsals were impossible. We just had to go for it as we had no choice but to perform the concert in one take and keep going, even if things went wrong.

JJ wearing in a traditional hat during the Christmas concert (Credit: Anita Hawser)

In between performing, I was racing around like a headless chicken to do costume changes into heritage uniforms, while providing refreshments and spraying everyone with sanitising spray. In hindsight, it was quite comical. 

Despite the seriousness of it all – and the sheer exhaustion that ensued – we managed to have a laugh.The performers hadn’t performed all year so having the opportunity to give again was really, really special.

Watch WIILMA’s annual concert by visiting @wiilmamusicarts on YouTube. WIILMA receives a £1 donation for every view of the concert and new YouTube subscriber

Find out more about WIILMA and how to donate at WIILMA’s official website