Thinking about joining a virtual choir? Here's how to rehearse and record like a pro:
- Choose your device. Smartphones, tablets and computers (with a built-in camera or webcam) can be used to record video clips or join rehearsals on platforms like Zoom.
- Find a quiet spot. Avoid appliances, like air conditioning units and refrigerators, that create background noise. Make sure that your device's microphone and speakers are unobstructed, particularly if you're using a tripod or other mounting tool.
- Do a test run. Before joining a virtual rehearsal, go over the basics of the platform you'll be using to get familiar with controls like the mute button. If recording a video, it's a good idea to create a test clip to check for sound quality before your final take — and to make sure you know how to save and export footage.
- Be flexible. Different choirs may have different requirements — for instance, asking that members mute themselves during digital rehearsals to avoid audio overlap, send audio files in a specific format, or wear a certain color during performances.
The San Diego Women's Chorus sings "Circle Chant" during a virtual performance.
Meg and Chuck Smith met as freshmen when the two joined the Oberlin College Choir.
Now in their 60s, singing remains a key part of life for the couple, who have been members of the choir at Plymouth Church in Des Moines, Iowa, since 1978.
But with in-person religious services, rehearsals and performances on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, countless choirs across the country have been forced to go virtual, quickly adapting to digital rehearsals and video performances in order to keep members singing — and audiences listening — from afar.
For the Smiths and the Plymouth Church choir, the switch to socially distant singing included creating a video rendition of the song the group would normally sing at the end of services on Sunday.
The resulting video, which features clips recorded at home by individual singers — including some from non-choir congregation members who also wanted to join in — now closes out the digital services the church broadcasts each week.
"I don't think that I was really ready for what an emotional experience it was, to see all of those faces and hear those voices singing together,” Meg says of watching the video for the first time. “That's what we've been missing, and it's hard to recreate that.”
Concert choirs have also had to rethink their seasons in light of the risks posed by in-person rehearsals, which have the potential to become coronavirus “superspreader” events because of the aerosols — tiny respiratory droplets — generated when singers breathe deeply and project their voices. One study from a choir practice in Skagit County, Washington, in March found that 53 out of 61 singers were infected with COVID-19 by one person. Two people died.
Singers never expected their practices to become high-risk events.
"In a way it caught everybody off guard,” says Linda Morrow, 66, a retired physician and member of the San Diego Women's Chorus, an LGBT-affiliated choir (Morrow is also the president of the chorus board of directors). “I don't think any of us expected that singing was going to be the absolute best possible way to transmit the virus, but in retrospect, because I'm a physician, I think yes, of course” it makes sense.
Though the group's spring in-person performances and events, including a highly anticipated LGBT choral festival in Minneapolis, have been canceled, Morrow says they've been hard at work putting together a new roster of digital performances, including a rendition of the national anthem for San Diego Pride in mid-July.