How Choirs Have Kept The Music Alive During The Pandemic

Most video platforms experience a lag between computers, making directing and singing in a choir setting nearly impossible during the pandemic, here’s how some have kept the music alive.

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One in six Americans sing in a choir, whether it be for their religious institution, school, or casually with other singers. Being in a choir is believed to be one of the most unifying group activities one could participate in, however, during a pandemic where the Covid-19 virus is spread through respiratory droplets in our breath, choirs have had to sacrifice what they love doing the most for the sake of safety. 

Choir singing was one of the first group activities to go remote when the pandemic first began, and experts believe they may be one of the last to come back. So as the pandemic progressed, choir directors and singers began to get creative with how they can continue doing what they love in a safe manner. 

“It was amazing to be able to sing with my friends again. Sometimes I forget I am not in a normal practice because it feels so real,” said Ian Bass, a seventh grader in the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, a Silicon Valley choir. This choir has actually been able to make online rehearsals possible without a delay using a technology called JackTrip.

“The longer the pandemic has worn on, the more innovative answers were developed to help choirs sing together again, from drive-in choruses in outdoor parking lots to tech solutions.”

Jent Jue is the director of the Ragazzi Boys, who recently told the media that a tech worker parent of one of their younger choir members originally had the idea to tinker with preexisting hardware to make it possible to rehearse without a delay. Mike Dickey was one of several parents who joined together to help find a solution for their kids. 

According to the Guardian, JackTrip is a “project out of Stanford that allows musicians to synchronize their singing with software and audio circuitry that is much faster than what is available in most laptops, desktops, mobile phones or tablets. The device plugs into a wired internet connection using an Ethernet cable to avoid the delays and unpredictability of wifi.” JackTrip was initially created more than a decade ago, but hasn’t experienced widespread use until the coronavirus. The Ragazzi choir members claim that once they plugged into JackTrip, they could hear each other sing for the first time in six months. 

Soundtrap is another sound-editing service which is owned by Spotify that the Lesbian and Gay Chorus of San Francisco has been using to sing together. Soundtrap allows each member to record their separate part before splicing them all together to make a combined song. The New York Choir Project asked its members to sing alongside pre-recorded voices and piano accompaniment with a muted microphone. Founder Charlie Adams explained that she initially “envisioned integrating some of the remote practicing into the choir in the future.”

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“People like that they can join in these choir rehearsals from wherever they are. I think that type of connection is something we would like to keep around.”

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Not everyone has been a fan of these new choir rehearsal tactics, however. In fact in the Journal of Voice a 2020 paper on safe Covid singing practices cited how most choir members “agree that many of the measures that make singing safe make it a lot less enjoyable than the preferred and traditional method of singing in spaces with better acoustics and the ability to see and hear cues and body language from fellow performers.”

Meg Bryna is a high school choral teacher in Iowa, where health and safety guidelines are currently at a minimum, who recently spoke to the press about this new age of music: “Keeping students safe required a lot of research. I found the best practices by collaborating with fellow instructors. For example our choir’s fall concert was streamed online, with the students singing masked and distanced from one another among the seats of the school theater, rather than on stage.”

“We worked very hard to keep up on everything, share it with each other, and basically shape our policy in line with what scientists around the country were saying,” she explained.” Another choir in Canada got creative by offering a drive-in concert where their music was streamed over the radio like a traditional drive-in movie theater. 

Mark Boyle is the national chair for the American Choral Directors Association who recently explained how while some of these measures may seem extreme to the average person, there’s nothing like the experience of singing together with your peers in person. “When you are part of a choir, you are part of something bigger than yourself. 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 are going to see a renaissance of art and creation.”