//VIRTUAL CHOIRS: The Two Reasons many of us HATE them!

VIRTUAL CHOIRS: The Two Reasons many of us HATE them!

Most of us had absolutely no opinion on “the value of VIRTUAL CHOIRS” until two weeks ago; since then, we have all become experts, or at least, experts of our own opinion.

The purpose of this blog is to spell out what a virtual choir is, what it is not, why many of us hate virtual choirs, and how a virtual choir could be an effective learning tool.

What is a Virtual Choir?

A virtual choir is a bunch of individuals who record their own audio/video parts, usually to a click track or to a conductor; from there, an editor puts together each individual’s audio/video tracks and makes a cohesive final recording. At no point are the singers performing together.

What isn’t a Virtual Choir?

A virtual choir is not a substitution for a choir rehearsal. We still do not have the technology to effectively rehearse 15-100 isolated singers at the same time. If we are looking for any type of valued result, the parts must be prerecorded and edited together.

Here is an example of “an attempt” at a live virtual rehearsal:

Virtual Hallelujah Chorus! #nailedit

*Virtual Hallelujah Chorus!* #naileditWe are very pleased to share with you our first ever attempt at a live virtual choir. It is safe to say that this will certainly keep us smiling throughout these uncertain times. 🙂

Posted by Walton Voices on Friday, March 20, 2020

The 2 Reasons Many of us HATE Virtual Choirs:

After reading many posts and comments by choral directors in several different Facebook groups, including Choral Clarity’s Facebook Community, I believe there are two simple reasons for the hated of Virtual Choirs:

  1. We may be jealous of what others are doing
  2. We may be comparing it’s value to a traditional choral experience

Why find Value in a Virtual Choir?

I’m not one who believes all choral directors should be creating a virtual choir during this period of distance learning; in fact, at the time of this blog post, I have yet to attempt a virtual choir with my students.

What I do believe, however, is that there are many valuable aspects of a virtual choir; if we stop thinking of it as a replacement for traditional choir rehearsals/performance and instead think of it as an experience that has it’s own independent merit, we will then have a new lens for appreciation:

Reason 1: Jealousy of others

Okay, that is a bit of a harsh statement, but allow me to explain. Like many of you, I have virtually no experience with creating a virtual choir; like many of you, I’m aware that it is immensely time consuming, and countless additional hours of work fall mainly on the choral director. Whether we are jealous of the technology that certain schools have, the technical skills of the choral director, or the amount of time the choral director is willing to spend on this post-production product, there may be something that is hindering our enjoyment of other choirs’ beautiful final product.

Many of us may also be experiencing pressure from our community and/or administrators to create our own virtual choir; this may bring out an even stronger disdain for every virtual choir recording that gets sent our way.

Just because WE don’t personally desire to ever lead a virtual choir doesn’t mean that we can’t support and appreciate others who produce a wonderful video. We can still choose to find merit in the entire experience, even if a virtual choir is not something we want to be involved with.

One more thing: It is perfectly fine to not want to create a virtual choir. I will explain the benefits below, but there are many other useful performance-based experiences our singers can have through distance-learning.

Reason 2: Viewing it through the lens of it replacing a traditional choral experience

A Virtual choir is not a replacement for a live choir performance. It is a totally different medium which offers different educational benefits and pitfalls.

If we are invalidating the benefits of a virtual choir, it’s likely because we are comparing it to a real choir rehearsal or live performance. If we treat a virtual choir as a separate experience, one that begins and ends in isolation and independence (not connected to in-class rehearsals), there could be tremendous value.

Below I would like to share some of the educational values of a virtual choir:

a. Students can be expected to learn their part on their own

If the virtual choir is a planned, main activity, not an extension of in-class rehearsal, students can be expected to learn their own part, with or without a part tape. This requires independence, personal responsibility, and practice.

b. Endless takes = endless practice

Most students will practice and practice until they are happy with their final recording. They will likely submit their best take after countless attempts.

c. No Grading is Necessary

There is no need to give a “test” on their music; their performance is on display for everyone to see and hear. Their individual performance will be on collectively display.

d. Everyone can be a star

There are no students in the back row. Nobody is too tall, too short, or blocked by a poorly executed choir window. Everyone has equal presence on a screen. In fact, the singers who are most charismatic will shine.

e. Many students will be focused on their visual presence

When students record their track, they will have their camera staring them in the face. It’s quite likely they will view their performance back before sending. But more important, all students will watch the final, virtual performance more intently than a typical choral performance because each student has their own box. They will learn from each others’ performance.

f. Students can sing freely

This is a great opportunity to explore the concept that every singer is a soloist first. If they sing out with confidence and don’t have any neighbor to rely on, they will likely sing with more risk-taking: more volume, greater dynamic contrast, and more emotion.

g. Endless opportunities for self-reflection

Self-reflection begins as singers are recording their parts at home. They will continually self-reflect until they are happy with the recording they submit. Once the final product is complete, singers will proudly watch and listen to the virtual recording, watching themselves, their peers and all members of their choir as a whole.

We are Not Virtually Teaching Choir

Any way we slice it, we are not teaching choir. We all know what choir is. Choir cannot happen when we are all in isolation.

What would be most helpful is re-framing what we hope to accomplish. We may be able to effectively teach our students elements of vocal technique, improve their reading skills, develop their ear, teach solo repertoire, etc; we can help our students to improve their singing and may even be able to teach them how to collaborate musically, but cannot teach them to sing together: the essence of a choir.

By | 2020-03-30T07:27:23-04:00 March 29th, 2020|Distance Learning|

About the Author:

Adam Paltrowitz is a master educator, composer, conductor, and clinician. During his 21-year tenure as the Director of Choral Activities at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in New York, his groups have toured throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. He also has pioneered a philosophy that every student is a soloist. Adam's choral program has also gained great acclaim for the cultivation of eight student-run a-cappella ensembles; some of these ensembles have performed on national and local television programs. His compositions and arrangements have been performed by choirs around the world. Adam earned his B.S. in music education from New York University, M.A. in vocal pedagogy from Columbia University - Teacher's College, and Ed.M. choral conducting from Columbia University - Teacher's College. ​Adam resides in Manhattan with his wife, Blair Goldberg, a professional Broadway actress, and their daughter, Lyla, and son, Nolan.

5 Comments

  1. Michael Etzwiler March 31, 2020 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    I embrace any kind of performance and performing opportunity. I think this is a completely viable way of putting a choir together. Yes the ensemble experience in rehearsal doesn’t exist in person but still a viable, relatable, and participatory performance opportunity! Bring on technology to support the arts!!!

  2. Joyce Keil April 5, 2020 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    Thank you. All of the above. I feel pressured, I don’t want to spend hours doing it, I feel inadequate, and I feel desperate to provide something to my kids. I so appreciate knowing that I’m not alone in my dilemma.

  3. Jacob Winkler April 7, 2020 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    Having just gotten into a somewhat heated exchange with some fellow choir conductors, I very much appreciate your breakdown of both the pros and cons of Virtual Choirs. This particular thread argued that Virtual Choirs shouldn’t even be called “choirs” because of what was lost, and in advocating for them I was ultimately told that clearly I was NOT a “choir person.” I think one aspect that they were missing, and that you don’t really touch on here either, is that in a time when we are craving both more connection and simple entertainment a virtual choir is meaningful for the AUDIENCE, even if the experience for the singers is very different.

  4. Tim Sarsany April 10, 2020 at 12:01 am - Reply

    This says it all. Thank you.

  5. J. Ford April 11, 2020 at 3:05 am - Reply

    Another aspect of these video productions (that perhaps everyone has been too polite to mention thus far) is that the temptation to fix the imperfections, enhance the weaknesses is just too great. The technology for pitch correction, time correction, realistic reverb, and on and on is available to anyone and easy to use. And unless you hear the original tracks or the producer has enhanced so much that it becomes obvious, then it just sounds like perfect singing. If your basses aren’t booming enough, tweak their EQ until they are. If your sopranos are slightly sharp, bring them down a few microtones, etc.

    That’s fine, but it’s not exactly a live recording of a live choir even though that’s exactly what it appears to be and what most people will assume it is. And yes, some choirs are just that good. But chances are–much like every pop song recorded in the past twenty years–there’s some level of autotune going on somewhere.

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