Keep Singing!

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These days the choral program you are able to have depends on the county your school is in. Some are totally virtual, some are a mix, and some are able to actually meet. The common thread among those situations is the threat of COVID-19, obviously! We have figured out the necessity of masks whenever and however we’re around each other. Getting really good at doing that is the only hope we have for now to eventually restart our choir programs. If you haven’t already, search online for singers’ masks and get some for the gang to wear. Make a stencil of the school logo and customize the masks to add some school pride to wearing them.

Here’s a question for you. Can you get or do you have permission to have you and four singers meet in the gym for one hour? If you can do that, there’s an easy way to build a virtual choir performance that encourages each student to find and use their own talents as they sing in a group context. Here’s my suggestion for how to do that.

First, choose a piece that has accompaniment. That helps with pitch and rhythm reference that is more important in the virtual world than at times when we stand and sing together. (Remember those times? ) Meet in the gym with your best soprano, alto, tenor and baritone, as well as the accompanist. Position the singers left to right – baritone, alto six feet diagonally back, tenor six feet to the side, and soprano six feet diagonally forward. You and the accompanist can face them some distance back. Use two mics for recording – one between and slightly in front of the baritone and alto, and the other between and slightly in front of the tenor and soprano. Record them using any two channel USB interface to your laptop, iPad, etc. The goal is to record a stereo mp3 with the soprano and baritone hard panned right and left, with the alto and tenor placed so they can be picked out easily by folks singing in earphones at home.

For the video, point the camera at you and the accompanist, not the singers. It helps in many ways to have those practicing at home be able to see the movement of the accompanist’s hands and see the directions supplied by the conductor. Record the piece and then review the results carefully. The audio balance should allow singers to find their part, here it in context, and hear enough of the accompaniment for reference, without losing track of the vocals.

Be prepared to post the video/audio combo to Facebook, Google Drive, or whatever you use to give the other singers a place to access it. Also, separate the audio and save an mp3 which can be sent out via email. That’s much easier for some folks to access.

Please remember that when you send out PDFs of the score, you are using copyrighted material, and should keep count of that so you can support the composers and arrangers of your music. Now you can have your singers practice on their own and work up their parts for the next step of the recording process.

Back to the gym. I prefer to record there for several reasons. The first is space. COVID-19 safety is easier to achieve and maintain in great big rooms. The second is acoustics. Two mics set up the way I described will be a bit dry in a small space, but have a rich sound with the liveness of a gym around them. And the setup for this next stage of recording uses the same placement of singers and mics, with one exception – there will be four recordings made, one each with four sopranos, then four altos, etc. The pattern of where they stand is the same, and the two mics go in the same place. Two channels stereo to the USB interface – same thing.

For the playback they’ll be singing to, use a laptop or iPad hooked up to a flat screen TV. Make sure the audio playback isn’t too loud. As director, you’ll need to supervise each recording just like a real performance, focusing the unity of dynamics and rhythm for the final blend. And yes, that means you’ll be following the conductor in the original video – you following you!

When you’re done recording you’ll have five videos. One way to put them together is to leave the first one out and build a four-pane video combo that has 16 singers on it. That’ll sound and look great. Also, separate the audio tracks and mix to an mp3 that can be shared via email. Convenient!

Let’s remember that even as we approach the day, and it is coming, that we can gather in the classroom and the choir room once again, the necessary addition of virtual performances is here to stay to some degree. The more we do it, the easier it gets, and the more we bridge the generational gap of technology with our students. Power to the people!

Fred Bogert has spent the last 45 years in the music business. He has produced, written for and performed on three Grammy-nominated CDs, as well as appearing as composer, producer and performer with a variety of artists, from John McEuen and David Amram to the Austin Symphony and the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. Bogert’s Nashville studios included RCA Studio B and Studio C, where he recorded over three thousand songs for a who’s who of independent artists. His website is fredbogert.com, and his choral scores are available on sheetmusicplus.com.

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