Teaching Choir During COVID-19: Virtual Choir Tutorial

 

I’m going to start with two words in today’s post.  Promise you won’t freak out, or run away screaming, okay? Promise?  Okay, here goes:

 

Virtual choir.

 

I know, I know, when we shifted to online learning, EVERYONE AND THEIR DOG started freaking out about virtual choirs.  And from the social media posts, there was a TON of backlash.  I think a lot of that was because choir directors suddenly had too many cooks in the kitchen–administrators, colleagues, parents, even students were all up in our faces, saying, “Oh, you guys could do one of those virtual choirs!”

 

 

The problem?  None of these people had ANY idea how difficult it is to put a virtual choir together.  The devices our singers need, the preparation of the music (because, uh, we can’t have our normal rehearsals anymore…), the technology involved, the MONEY needed for said technology, the time it takes to learn how to use the technology, and finally, the HOURS UPON HOURS it takes to then edit and put it all together.

 

So for those of you that said, “No way I’m doing that”, I don’t blame you.  What. So. Ever.  For those of you where you are in a program where every student has a device, and you had someone offer to professionally edit all of the video and audio together, good for you!  That’s awesome!  

 

But to expect choral directors to try to go through all of those hurdles, and then spend 50 hours trying to edit everything together (and yes, that’s a realistic amount of time for this project), I can see why people were turned off by it.  And for those of you that have said, “it’s not a real choral experience”, I agree with you!  I don’t think a virtual choir replaces what we do on a regular basis in any shape or form.

 

The Argument For a Virtual Choir

However, as different of an experience it is, a virtual choir project does have some positive benefits:

 

1-It keeps your singers singing! (This is a BIG one for me.)

 

2-It puts them very much in control of their own learning and preparation. If one of our goals is to get our singers to be independent musicians, then I think a virtual choir project can be a good measuring stick and motivator.

 

3-It gives us as choir directors an opportunity to “rehearse” with our singers (I put “rehearse” in quotes because I realize that this is still VERY different than a normal rehearsal. But, it’s something!)

 

4-It gives us the opportunity to continue to bring wonderful, exciting, amazing, invigorating choral repertoire into the lives of our singers.  From my own “singer perspective”: I can only study or listen to a piece of choral music for so long.  At some point, I gotta sing it!  And a virtual choir project gives us an opportunity (although very different than normal) to do that.

 

5-It gives your singers something tangible to enjoy at the end of the process.

To me, this project doesn’t have to be a professionally edited video.  I’m not doing a virtual choir project with the idea that I’m going to broadcast it everywhere.  Instead, I’m doing it for all of the reasons above.  Even though we missed out on our final concert of the year, this virtual choir project will be something that my singers can have and hold on to as they move on to the next step in their journeys.  

 

The Technology

 

When I started this project, I vowed to keep it simple.  Many projects that you see out there are using professional-level software and equipment, with professional-level price tags.  I did not have the money to spend on all of that, and I also didn’t have the extra time to learn how to use all of it.

 

My school computer is a MacBook, so I’m keeping it simple with GarageBand.  I also have a software program called Screenflow, which I’ve used for various video projects for auditions, videos to promote our program, and for show choir.  I believe the price tag on that is $199, which isn’t bad, but again, outside the realm of possibility for some directors.  

 

Apple features professional-level video (Final Cut Pro X-$299) and audio (Logic Pro X-$199) software.  Again, both are pricey, but both are featuring a free trial for 90 days.  I would imagine that if school closures are extended in the fall, that these trial periods would be extended as well.  There are certainly other software alternatives out there, many of them also featuring free trials for the rest of the school year. 

 

The other option is to try to search out someone in your community that is in the audio/video editing field.  You never know who might have the skills, the equipment and the time to put a project like this together!

 

The Process

If you are looking for a step-by-step tutorial of how I put my Virtual Choir project together, I have laid it all out in my FREE Virtual Choir Tutorial PDF!  Here’s a link to request your copy:

 

https://bit.ly/VirtualChoirTutorial

 

For our project, I made a video of myself conducting to a recording of the vocal parts.  The students use earbuds to watch/listen to the video, and then make an audio recording of themselves singing.  They send the audio back to me, where I then take it and import it into GarageBand, and then go through the process of lining all of the audio up together.  

 

For the video, I know of projects that have had every single singer make an individual video, and then “stitched” them together.  But we are going much more simple–we are meeting over Zoom to have them “sing” together. I will record my screen as we do this, and then I will export that video into Screenflow, where I will then combine it with the final audio track that I have edited together.  This works because I’m not using the audio from Zoom, just the video.  The audio comes from the final audio file that I’ve created in GarageBand.  Fingers crossed that it all lines up and comes together!

 

Keep it Simple!

 

One question to ask yourself: “Do we really NEED video?”  If you did an “audio-only performance” through GarageBand, it minimizes the difficulty of the project considerably.  If you do want video to be part of the project, you could make a movie–a slideshow of images, or even pictures of your choir!–in iMovie, and then import your audio file and make that the background audio to your movie project.  This is fairly easy to do, and has the opportunity to make a more meaningful impact on your audience.

I hope this post has provided you with some ideas, and has shown that a virtual choir project does not have to be a daunting task, or a “flashy” production.  The virtual choir will never, ever replace our traditional choral concerts.  But like our normal performances, the virtual choir project can serve as a musical destination for our singers.  Where the real learning happens, where the real value comes, is in the journey.  

 

Do you have some tips on creating a virtual project that you could share with our CDC Community? Post it in our FREE Facebook Group, The Choir Director Corner Community!  You can find it at:  www.ChoirDirectorCornerCommunity.com.

 

Or, you can always send me an email at: Matt@ChoirDirectorCorner.com

 

Have an awesome day, see you soon for Part 5!  

 

Matt

 

And for more great content and a fantastic online community of choir directors, head over to our FREE Facebook Group, The Choir Director Corner Community!  You can find it at:  www.ChoirDirectorCornerCommunity.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *