Teaching Choir During COVID-19: Part 2

First off–who’s seen the movie “Bolt”?

I think I’ve watched that move a bajillion times with my kids.  Which, really, it is a pretty good movie 🙂  Well, today’s post reminded me of a line from that movie–



Today’s post is all about how you can use Zoom (or similar products) in productive ways with your choir members.  Certainly there are other products that you could use in much the same way; I’m just discussing Zoom because that is what my school has chosen to use.  I have been using it regularly with my classes the past several weeks, and while it’s not perfect, it definitely has been at the center of online teaching at my school. 

When everything started shifting to online learning, Zoom quickly became a tool for many schools.  There were some bumps in the road with system settings and security, most of which have been worked out.  At my school we are meeting on a regular schedule every other day with our classes, Monday-Thursday.  Of the two days with each class, one of those is to be a Zoom meeting, and then we also have to be available another hour during the week for office hours via Zoom.  I have been using almost all of my “class periods” to meet with my singers via Zoom.  It really has been a productive use of our time, and my singers enjoy the opportunity to see me and each other 🙂


I’ve had a lot of questions about how to rehearse with our ensembles in “real-time”, but unfortunately, there’s no technology currently that allows us to do that.  Some choir directors that I’ve talked to, once they realized this, have dismissed Zoom as a teaching tool.  But if you temper your expectations, Zoom can really be a useful tool.


The first thing to address are some of the settings.  First off, the sound is slightly improved if you turn on the “Original Sound” setting.  Zoom naturally does some things to the sound to improve performance, but if you’re doing any sort of singing/music over Zoom, the quality will be better with the “Original Sound” setting on.


Next, for security purposes–make sure that you are using the “Waiting Room” function.  When singers click on the Zoom link that you provide, they will then sit in the “Waiting Room” until you give them approval to join the meeting.  This function helps prevent anyone from entering the Zoom meeting that shouldn’t be there.  


As far as instruction, I have been using Zoom to deliver instruction on a variety of topics.  You have your typical lecture/discussion, but I’ve also been using Zoom to hold sectionals with my choir, and to deliver lessons on music theory and sight reading.  We also typically hold choir auditions in May for the fall, so I’ve been reviewing the audition music and the different aspects of the audition process.


Most of the questions I have received have been related to how I’ve used Zoom to run sectionals with my singers.  There are definitely some pros and cons:


CONS: You have to “mute” all of your singers, which means they cannot hear each other, and you cannot hear them, which limits the feedback that you can give them.


PROS:  Your singers CAN hear YOU, which means that you can play/sing their part, and they can practice singing along with you.  And while there is a lag in the technology, that is not as much of an issue, as the singers are basically singing by themselves–you aren’t trying to keep all of them together.


By going through this process, you give the singers the opportunity to self-evaluate; they then can either ask you a question or put a question in the chat.  This allows for some collaborative problem-solving, and puts the singers in charge of the evaluation process.  This also creates the opportunity for a written assessment, if that is something that fits with your online curriculum.  And if singers are shy about asking a question, they can send a question directly to you in the chat, so that the other singers on the Zoom call do not see it.


Now, I realize that this is much different than a typical choir rehearsal.  In many ways, it’s not even CLOSE to a normal choir rehearsal.  But it does have some benefits, the biggest one being that it keeps your singers singing!  For us, we had started some new repertoire prior to the school closings, so sectionals have allowed us to continue to explore some really great repertoire as a group.  And yes, we are going to be doing a “virtual choir project” (a VERY basic version, more on that in a future post), which will give my singers a finished project to enjoy.  


Another positive from using Zoom is that it does give my students the opportunity to interact in a structured way. And, not to toot my own horn, but they would tell you that the opportunity to interact with me is the best part!  As teachers, our students need us, they miss us, and each other.  And Zoom can help make all of that a little bit better.  


I have a group of 10 students that I meet with for an hour every week, and we just talk.  We talk about how they are doing, what they are up to, what they miss, their hopes for next year, etc.  In mid-April our school shifted curriculum, and they removed these meetings from the class schedule.  My students BEGGED to continue to meet, and so we do.  The music is great, they said, but that one meeting was the best part of their week.  The lesson for me was to not underestimate the importance, the value of just being there for my students.  


No, Zoom is not a magic bean that will fix all of our problems.  It will not allow us to truly bring our singers together to collaborate and create art like we used to.  But as my grandma always used to say, “When life gives you lemons, you gotta make lemonade!”  It can be a productive tool that will help us keep our choir members singing.  


Is it the same as singing in our choir room? No, absolutely not.  But as the COVID-19 situation continues on, if I can continue to bring wonderful choral repertoire to my students and keep them singing, then that’s a HUGE win in my book!


If you have any suggestions about using Zoom with your singers, or if you have some creative ways that you are using Zoom that you’d like to share with the CDC Community, send me an email at: 

Matt@ChoirDirectorCorner.com. I’d love to hear from you!  


Hope you enjoyed the post, see you tomorrow for Part 3!  



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