WATCH: Choirs Move Online To Provide Entertainment, Stay Connected

Apr 22, 2020

Updated April 22, 2020

Online videos of musical groups singing and playing together while in isolation remain popular on social media. WVXU reported April 7, 2020 on the Cincinnati Youth Choir's efforts to create a video featuring kids from 1st through 12th grade. Director of Programs Rachel Breeden says nearly 80 kids participated in the video released April 22.

"Our families were ecstatic to see it. They were all really eager to participate because they miss being with each other so much," Breeden says.

The video took a lot of work, she adds. The younger kids had to learn the song through video meetings, and it took 150 hours to put the final performance together.

Watch the Cincinnati Youth Choir Virtual Choir performance of Ruth Moody's "One Voice."

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Concerts and recitals are canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving choirs and orchestra with hundreds of hours of practice and nowhere to perform. The last few weeks have given rise to the "virtual choir."

Videos of choir members singing in their homes, digitally compiled into a unified performance, are becoming popular on websites and social media. Often, the songs are uplifting or chosen to provide hope during these uncertain and worrisome times.

Vocal Arts Ensemble (VAE), a chamber choir of professional singers in Cincinnati, was supposed to debut its "Sacred Heart" concert this spring. Instead, the group Monday released a digital performance.

Many people are turning to the arts to get through the coronavirus crisis and groups across the country from high schools to professional companies are trying their hand at the virtual concert. But videos like these aren't easy to produce.

"The amount of editing that goes into one of those videos ... it's 80 hours of editing for someone who knows what they're doing," says Robyn Lana, managing artistic director of Cincinnati Youth Choir, citing a how-to video created by one of the first choral groups to see their video go viral. That doesn't include the 48 hours it took his computer to finalize the product before it was ready for sharing.

Regardless, how-to guides are springing up across the internet and some music and editing software companies are offering trial memberships or discounted rates to help groups create videos.

Beside VAE, two other local choral groups are in the process of joining the virtual concert wave. Cincinnati Youth Choir (CYC) and Young Professional Choral Collective (YPCC) have projects in the works.

"We are collecting individual videos from our kids, we are layering it with piano and we're using their individual videos, but you probably won't see more than three or four kids at a time singing," says CYC's Lana.

Participation isn't mandatory but Lana says they could receive some 80 videos. She says the video is a lot of work but will be worth it. However, she worries about the lack of joy and energy that comes from being together in one place when performing.

"These online, virtual choirs are absent of that and I don't want to do too many projects that drives it home for our singers that we're supposed to be together and yet we can't be."

Individuals are sent a "click track" to use when recording their parts - it's what you see them listening to through an ear piece or headphones. They sing along to the track, ensuring their tempo, rhythm and pitch will match their fellow singers since they can't physically hear them.

The undertaking could be even more exhaustive for the Young Professional Choral Collective. Founding Artistic Director KellyAnn Nelson expects anywhere from 25 to 950 members will participate. She sees their video as a way for choir members to stay connected and keep creating music during this time.

"The planning process for us is actually even more exciting than the release date," she says. "We're putting a lot more thought into how we'll reach our singers; how we'll create these tracks; how we'll get them excited about it; how we'll make sure they can connect with the composer; and much less time and thought into how we'll release it publicly."

Performers have two weeks to record their parts and send them in. Though the selection, the first movement in a three-part work commissioned by the group, is meant to be a cappella, they've added a piano and drum part to help keep the virtual work together, Nelson says. Since they've never performed the piece, the choir held a Google Hangout session for members to learn about it and section leaders recorded base tracks set to a video of Nelson conducting in order to set a tempo.

Both choirs selected pieces they view as uplifting. YPCC's commissioned work is called "Light and Love," part of the "Light Triptych" composed by Jacob Stone, a former YPCC member.

"This first movement is these text from ancient texts all about this idea of light and love and how it connects us and moves us forward," Nelson explains.

Cincinnati Youth Choir selected "One Voice," written by Ruth Moody and recorded originally by The Wailin' Jennys. The song was already in the group's repertoire so some kids wouldn't have to learn something new and it would be easier for the younger members to pick up quickly, Lana says.

"It was something that was very accessible and has a great message. This is the text that the kids will be singing all together: 'This is the sound of one voice; One people, one voice; A song for every one of us; This is the sound of one voice.' So it's an uplifting, looking to the future kind of text."

It will be several weeks before the videos are released. Lana and Nelson are both excited and hopeful the projects will bring joy and hope to their singers and the public.

"You see all these people reaching out to music and the arts to soothe themselves through this whole isolation, this is just one way ... we can do that," Lana says.

This story was originally published on April 7, 2020.