Thursday, December 9

‘It breaks our hearts not to sing’: how choirs keep music alive during Covid | Music

As anyone who tried to sing “happy birthday” at a Zoom party last year can tell you, online audio doesn’t work well with multiple users.

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

Choral singing, a group activity that requires intense breathing, within earshot of others, often while crammed into small rooms, is one of the highest risk activities for the spread of Covid-19.

Next highly publicized Reports of choir rehearsals turned into widely publicized tragic events, choir singing was one of the first activities to go remote, and experts say it may be the last to return.

But the longer the pandemic lasted, the more innovative responses were developed to help choirs sing together again, from drive-in choirs in open-air parking lots to tech solutions..

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

Singing together, online

When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the U.S. in early 2020, the Ragazzi Boys, a group of 250 boys ages seven to 18, went through quite a few contingency plans, said Kent Jue, their director. Then a tech worker, the father of a young choir member, started messing with the hardware to find a solution for the sound latency.

guys with headphones and microphones
The members of the Ragazzi Boys Chorus perform together virtually. Photograph: Courtesy of Ragazzi Boys Chorus

Mike Dickey, one of several parents involved in finding technological solutions for the choir, came across JackTrip, a Stanford project that allows musicians to sync their singing with audio circuitry and software that is much faster than what you are. available on most laptops and desktops. , mobile phones or tablets. The device connects to a wired Internet connection using an Ethernet cable to avoid delays and unpredictability of Wi-Fi.

JackTrip was made more than 10 years ago, but has found widespread new use in the era of the coronavirus. When nearly a dozen of Ragazzi’s choir members hooked up to JackTrip, they heard themselves sing clearly for the first time in six months.

The Lesbian / Gay Chorus of San Francisco has been signing together through a Spotify-owned sound editing service called Soundtrap, which allows musicians to record separate the parts and join them to make group music.

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

The founder and director of the New York choir, Charlie Adams, said he envisioned integrating some of the remote practices into the choir in the future, even when they can sing together again.

“People liked being able to join in from wherever they were, even if we couldn’t sit together,” he said. “That is 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 from other artists ”, as put in a 2020 Document on Safe Singing Practices Covid in the Journal of Voice.

The Stonewall Chorale, a 70-member LGBTQ + choir founded in New York City in 1977, is choosing to wait for the virus to go away. Its members just don’t want to waste time setting up a home singing studio for a less than satisfying singing experience, said Michael Kohn, one of the members.

“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 has tentatively planned its first post-coronavirus performance for the second week of December, eight months from now. But the members don’t take anything for granted, Kohn said.

“It breaks our hearts not to sing together,” he said. “We long to sing and connect beyond the screen.”

In person but still apart

Meanwhile, some choral conductors have chosen to sing in person with established safety protocols, from choral singing masks, developed through crowdsourcing and structured to keep clothing out of the mouth while singing, to groundbreaking outdoor concerts.

For Meg Byrne, a high school choir teacher in Iowa, a state with relatively few government guidelines on coronavirus, keeping students safe required a lot of research. He found best practices by collaborating with other instructors: The choir’s fall concert was streamed online, with students singing masked and spaced from one another between seats in the school theater, rather than on stage.

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

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

Based on these suggestions, some are taking their own innovative approaches. An ensemble in Canada created a Drive-in concert – Stream music via slightly faster radio waves to avoid lag time experienced online.

These measures may sound outlandish, but it’s a small price to pay for even a semblance of singing together, said Mark Boyle, national president of the American Choral Conductors 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 this, we will see a renaissance of art and creation. “

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