Beyond the Zoom Choir

4 Members of The Myriad Choir singing socially distanced
Choral Conductor Elise Naccarato shares ways to move beyond the ‘virtual choir’ experience.

People join choirs to sing with others – in the same, shared physical space! Having to maintain social distancing and, for many choirs, not being able to meet at all, strikes a blow at the raison d’etre of choral life. 

Zoom also presents challenges – it’s terrific for some aspects of teaching and learning, but Elise Naccarato wanted to push things further with her choir. 

Choir Facts

Choir Name:  Myriad Ensemble
Location:  Burlington, Ontario, Canada
Style:  Choral music
Number of singers:  25 – 30
Choir Director Name:  Elise Naccarato
Mission: To inspire and lead in the choral art by amplifying women’s voices through community, vocal excellence, and innovative programming

How did your choir cope with the first round of the Pandemic?

Like every other choir, were forced to onto zoom in March 2020 – it was a shock. I remember so distinctly our last pre-zoom rehearsal because just afterwards we went on an impromptu excursion to get ice cream. As we were sitting there, we all started to get notifications that the universities were closing, schools, business etc ….it was surreal. Little did we know that that was the last time we’d sing together in-person for over six months.

So, did you become a “Zoom choir”?

Elise Naccarato, Conductor, The Myriad Ensemble

At first, yes. We rehearsed online and even produced a virtual choir video, but we were simply coping. It was emotionally draining as I and the singers alike yearned for what we could not do – be together. It was a frustrating few months. 

There’s no magic online solutions for choirs…

Singers join a choir to sing with others in real time. Unfortunately Zoom or any other online platform has not yet been able to overcome the technical hurdles this entails. Singing together is the crux of the choral experience, so without the ability to do so, it’s just not choir.  But then we began to harness Zoom in some different ways…

Tell all!

We realized that zoom rehearsals could give us a unique opportunity to connect with our audience in a digital way. It also changed the dynamic of rehearsals by forcing every singer to be independent and not rely on their section’s musical leaders. We have grown vocally and this independence has allowed us to grow as ensemble. The ability to share a screen and utilize online resources has also given us the time to build musicianship skills and incorporate fun community building activities. I am grateful we live in an era where platforms like zoom exist so we can still connect while unable to gather.  

Elise Naccarato and the Myriad Ensemble do socially distanced lip syncing in preparation for a virtual concert

Anything else you’ve done on Zoom that choir members found new and enjoyable?

In January I asked for “chorister requests” about topics related to choral performance they want to learn more about. There were expected answers like, “I want to improve my vocal technique” or “I would like to learn more music theory”, however, other ideas came up to like how to sing more expressively for a camera and move their bodies when they perform. Zoom has allowed for us to bring in experts each week to address these ideas – we have learned a lot from these fantastic clinicians!

Did you try one of those Zoom-choir performances?

Oh yes – a virtual choir. Although virtual choirs existed pre-pandemic, we were one of the first in March 2020. Now virtual choir videos are everywhere!  We are certainly proud of our version of The Wailin’ Jennys piece, One Voice. I am humbled people felt our music put a smile on their face – even if just for three minutes. 

What did you try next?

Doing One Voice taught us virtual videos were not Myriad’s way forward. For me, this meant that I had to be creative about how we would proceed going into September. Not meeting was never an option in my mind. By August we were able to gather in-person with precautions, and after polling with the choir, over 85% of the choir were willing to try in-person rehearsals, masked and well distanced. While the weather was nice, we did some outdoor singing, spaced out with hoola hoops 6-9ft apart, and took some time to get comfortable being together again. By September, we were able to move inside and start hybrid rehearsals. 

What is a hybrid rehearsal?

This refers to the idea that choir members can choose to attend either in person or joining rehearsal from home – hence, ‘’Hybrid”. Of course, we only meet in person if it is allowed and we always go  above and beyond the safety recommendations. Utilizing this option in September meant we could begin to work on a digital concert.

What is a digital concert? 

To me, a digital concert is not presented to the audience live, but the production process happens in-person. A virtual concert is a bunch of little boxes on a screen where individual singers are synched up. 

A digital concert means that we…

  • meet in our concert venue to record ourselves singing together  (this is done totally socially distanced and with masks on). 
  • film ourselves singing in outdoor locations – in these outdoor locations we are lip synching to our recorded voices.  

The result is that choir members get the experience of singing and working together – and our audience gets an entirely different experience that can feel more immersive….like watching a movie! Here’s an example:

This sounds like a really positive development for the choir! 

It was! It has brought the entertainment levels of our concerts to a whole new level. I’m afraid to go back to live music making for fear we cannot replicate this same entertainment value live. 

Think of a series of music videos all strung together. Instead of airing the concert to a live audience, we sold tickets for it to be viewed online. The difference between a digital concert and virtual video to me is that there were no “individual faces on a screen”. It was a huge learning curve; however, we were all just so grateful to be able to gather in the same room. We were – and are – ready and willing to learn how to sing in our new reality. 

Tell us more about a digital concert…

Learning how to produce a digital concert might be the best thing to come out of this pandemic. They are a lot of work but worth every penny and minute of time. They opened our concerts up to people from all around the world and allowed us to add a new layer of entertainment value by intertwining the visual and audio experience. 

Can you walk us through the process?

The choir gathers in a recording space, adhering to all COVID regulations, then first records the audio. Then the audio has to be edited. Once edited, we lip-sing to our audio outside creating individual music videos. To me, there always has to be a ‘thread’ that creates a theme to connect all the videos. This has to be thought out, scripted, and then filmed as well. Once all the pieces have audio and video, they are edited together. It’s a lot of work and time for a 30min production. I have a new respect for film makers! 

Doesn’t it lead to poor audio quality singing with masks on? 

Surprisingly, the quality is not as bad as one might think. Why don’t you judge for yourself? Take a look at this:

At first, it was a struggle for everyone to learn how to sing masked, however, as we got used to being masked and distanced it was worth it to be able to sing in-person and keep each other safe. The mask does dilute the overtones that can be produced; however, this solution is far better than Zoom! 

How did you achieve good lip synching in your outdoor performance?

A trick that was taught to us was to sing very lightly to yourself. It looks so much more real and yet is inaudible! We learned this prior to the second concert, and it made a huge difference! 

What is working for you and your group right now in on-line rehearsals?

Always keeping it real and finding moments of fun and laughter. The negatives of rehearsing online are apparent from the moment we log-on, so staying positive and always reminding everyone this is just temporary is really important. I think it also helps to have goals to work towards…this encourages everyone to keep working at their music knowing we have to meet a goal in the near future. 

A moment of online laughter?

Many of the singers own pets, so, the number of times a cat has sat on a keyboard or a dog has stuck their nose in a screen is too many to count! We have many honourary ‘pets of Myraid J’ 

0 replies on “Beyond the Zoom Choir”