Please don’t stop the music: how choirs sing during the pandemic | Music

As anyone who has tried singing “happy birthday” at a Zoom party last year can tell you, online audio does not perform well with multiple users.

This is because Zoom, like most other video platforms, experiences a lag of 300 milliseconds per second between computers when information is sent over the Internet. The delay makes it nearly impossible to conduct and sing the music simultaneously, making the pandemic eerily silent for one in six Americans singing in a choir.

Choral singing – a group activity that requires deep breathing, within earshot of each other, often crammed into small rooms – is one of the riskiest activities for the spread of Covid-19.

Following high-profile reports of choir rehearsals that turned into tragic super-broadcast events, choral singing was one of the first activities to move away, and experts say it may be the last to come back.

But the longer the pandemic has prolonged, the more innovative responses have been developed to help choirs sing together again, from choirs in cars in outdoor parking lots to technological solutions..

“It was amazing to be able to sing with my friends again,” said Ian Bass, a seventh grade student with Ragazzi Boys Chorus, a Silicon Valley choir that made online rehearsals work through a technology called JackTrip. which eliminates the dreaded delay. “Sometimes I forget that I’m not in a normal practice because it feels so real to me.”

Sing together, online

When the coronavirus pandemic exploded in the United States in early 2020, the Ragazzi Boys, a group of 250 boys between the ages of seven and 18, followed many contingency plans, said Kent Jue, its manager. Next, a tech-savvy parent of a young choir member began tinkering with hardware to find a solution to the sound latency.

Members of the Ragazzi Boys Chorus perform virtually together. Photography: Courtesy of Ragazzi Boys Chorus

Mike Dickey, one of the many parents involved in finding technological solutions for the choir, stumbled across JackTrip, a Stanford project that allows musicians to synchronize their vocals with software and audio circuits much faster than what is available in most laptops, desktops, cell phones or tablets. The device plugs into a wired internet connection using an Ethernet cable to avoid wifi delays and unpredictability.

JackTrip was created over 10 years ago, but it has found widespread new use in the coronavirus era. When nearly a dozen members of the Ragazzi choir tapped into JackTrip, they heard each other sing clearly for the first time in six months.

The San Francisco Lesbian / Gay Chorus have signed together through a Spotify-owned sound editing service called Soundtrap, which allows musicians to record separate parts and put them together to make band music.

The New York Choir Project has tried a different approach, asking its members to sing along with pre-recorded vocals and piano accompaniment with a muted microphone, its founder and director Charlie Adams said.

Adams said she plans to incorporate some of the distance practices into the choir in the future, even when they can sing together again.

“People loved being able to participate from anywhere, even if we couldn’t sit together,” she said. “It’s something we would like to keep.”

“It’s just not the choral experience”

While the choirs have shown remarkable ingenuity, most members agree that many of the measures that make singing safe make it much less enjoyable than “the preferred and traditional method of singing in spaces with better acoustics and the ability to see and hear signals and body language. fellow performers, ”as reported in a 2020 article on Covid’s Safe Singing Practices in the Journal of Voice.

The Stonewall Chorale – a 70-member LGBTQ + choir founded in New York in 1977 – therefore chose to wait for the virus to come out. Its members just don’t want to spend the time setting up a home singing studio for a less than satisfying singing experience, said member Michael Conwill.

“Everyone is frustrated that it is not so musically satisfying to sit at home in your apartment and sing alone into a microphone,” he said.

The group tentatively scheduled their first post-coronavirus performance for the second week of December – in eight months. But members are not taking anything for granted, Conwill said.

“It breaks our hearts not to sing together,” he said. “We feel like singing and connecting beyond the screen.”

In person but always apart

Meanwhile, some choir directors have chosen to sing in person with safety protocols in place, choral singing masks, developed through crowdsourcing and structured to keep tissue away from the mouth while singing – to innovative concerts in outdoors.

For Meg Byrne, a high school choir teacher in Iowa – a state with relatively little government guidance regarding the coronavirus – keeping students safe has required a lot of research. She found best practices by collaborating with other instructors: the choir’s fall concert was broadcast online, with students singing in masks and away from each other among the seats in the school theater, rather than on the scene.

In March 2020, members of a virtual community choir light candles from their home as seen from Brooklyn, New York.
In March 2020, members of a virtual community choir light candles from their home as seen from Brooklyn, New York. Photograph: Jessie Wardarski / AP

“We worked really hard to keep track of everything, share it with each other and basically shape our policy according to what scientists across the country were saying,” she said.

In line with these suggestions, some are adopting their own innovative approaches. An ensemble in Canada has created a drive-in concert – playing music over slightly faster radio waves to avoid the latency experienced online.

These steps may seem extravagant, but it’s a small price to pay even for a semblance of singing together, said Mark Boyle, national president of the American Choral Directors Association.

“When you are part of a choir, you are part of something bigger than yourself,” he said. “We have music because art is essential to the human condition, and choral music is part of that tradition. I think when we get out of it, we will see a renaissance of art and creation.

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