What Is a Virtual Choir?
Written by Brent Brondyke, Music Pastor
Several weeks ago (whew, that sounds weird to say!) someone suggested that I consider doing a “virtual choir” with the FBC Choir. I was very familiar with the concept, not just because the internet is exploding with these “let’s be together while we’re apart” projects. Nine years ago I watched this video by choral guru Eric Whitacre explaining how he created a huge virtual choir, and since that time I have thought it is one of the coolest things ever. He has produced three or four more of these over the ensuing years. I recommend you take a look at this to understand better the rest of the article.
Frankly, my familiarity, while not breeding contempt, did lessen my enthusiasm for the idea. I know anything we would try would not come close to the technical wizardry of a Whitacre production, nor the sheer “awesomeness” of his 2000+-voice virtual choirs. Also, once “everyone’s doing it,” I kind of lose interest. However, one of my college buddies had done one with his choir a few weeks ago. He encouraged me to give it a try… mainly because it would be fun, spiritually rewarding, and encouraging for my choir. You know, those are pretty good reasons! Simultaneously, I found out that within our church I had a connection to an area professional who had already produced a few of these, Peter Scheibner, son of Steve and Megan. That was all I needed to believe that God was leading in the direction of making our own virtual choir.
After securing a pre-recorded orchestral accompaniment (I was NOT ready to try to involve our orchestra, as it would have added an additional layer of production and time. Hey, we wanted this thing done before Corona is over! ) of a song we already know, “You Are Always Good,” and like, we were ready to begin. Some orchestra members, by the way, joined the project as singers.
Steps to completion:
1. I polled the choir to gauge interest and commitment for a project of this magnitude. Enough said “yes” for us to move forward.
2. Debi and I recorded “click tracks” (audio recordings with underlying rhythmic pulse… me beating on a plastic cup) for each voice part: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass.
3. I met the producer at church to film my conducting. This was mostly for the choir members to use while recording their voices. Needed to be good because some footage was used in the final production. Oh, social distance was maintained!!
4. The producer mixed our click tracks with the conducting video. He laid a scrolling pdf of the music next to the conducting video, so singers could watch me, listen, and read the music all on one video. Yes, that’s cool.
5. After I received those four videos from him, I sent them out to the choir (and some additional singers in the church) with detailed instructions on how to practice, record (a VERY involved process involving at least two devices typically), and upload finished videos. Basic idea is they have to listen and sing along. What they are listening to cannot be audible to the recording device. Finished video is just their voice.
6. Everyone began to chip away, and four days later Peter had everyone’s videos.
7. NOW, the real work began. That was all Peter, and since I could not be with him (a little COVID-19 thing, you know), I will just say that he lined up all the videos with each other perfectly, mixed the sound with tremendous balance (even though the voice part numbers were a little uneven), added creative genius, and (after a few tweaks because of a really picky conductor) came up with a beautiful finished product.
I hope you are blessed by the final product. I hope the choir was blessed by ministering in a new and creative way… even though it was a LOT of work for them, as in hours and hours, no lie!). And I hope Ron and Shelly Hamilton are blessed. I have decided to dedicate this project to them. The song has special meaning for them, meaning that just becomes more poignant with each passing day, as they struggle with Ron’s rapidly advancing and totally debilitating dementia.