How to Create a Virtual Choir Performance Video
By Anna Wentlent | July 28, 2020
When school shut down in March, I was blindsided. In an effort to connect with my students at home and continue making meaningful music from a distance, I found myself searching “how to create a virtual choir performance” online. There wasn’t much…
After much trial and error, I’ve figured out a process that works for me, and I’ll continue to fine tune it and improve the overall quality of my virtual performances if (when) we end up rehearsing and performing remotely again this fall. Here are my tips for creating a virtual choir performance with your own students:
1. Start with a single, short performance.
Armed with a handful of tips from Eric Whitacre’s website and some very basic knowledge of audio and video editing software, I made an initial attempt with a one-minute excerpt of Carly Simon’s Let the River Run, arranged by Jay Althouse. This is a song that my kids sing at the end of every spring concert, so they knew it forwards and backwards. It still took many of them multiple takes and took me about a week to put their one-minute videos into a polished performance. Now that I know what I’m doing, I can move much faster.
2. Prep your guide track.
If you and your students have SmartMusic subscriptions, students can play along with the included accompaniments, and record and download their takes all from within the program. Otherwise, you will either have to buy an accompaniment track, record the piano accompaniment, or engrave the piece in a music software program, such as Finale, and export the audio. Even if the piece is a cappella, you will need a guide track of the parts being sung or played. Your students will be singing along with this track when they make their recordings, so make sure there is a clear count-off at the beginning of the track and be very clear and obvious about entrances, transitions, tempo changes, etc. I engraved my pieces and added a click track, similar to what would be used in a studio session, so that they could hear the subdivision of the beat during transitions and tempo changes.
3. Plan your performance.
What will your students wear? Should they be standing or sitting? Should they position themselves in front of a plain background? You might not care about this for your first trial performance, but eventually you’ll want to set some performance standards, just as you would for an in-person concert.
4. Set clear recordings guidelines for your students.
What is obvious to you may not be obvious to them! Here are the guidelines I posted on my website:
- Record with your cell phone. There’s no need to buy fancy equipment.
- No a cappella singing. You must absolutely use the accompaniment track, to ensure that everyone is singing in the same key and at the same tempo.
- Cleary clap directly in front of the camera on the specified beat before singing. This will serve as an audio and visual marker when lining up the videos. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!
- Position the camera horizontally and keep your head in the middle of the video. You don’t have to stare directly into the camera the entire time, but you should remain facing forward.
- Listen to the track with headphones in just one ear, so that you can hear both the accompaniment track and yourself, but only your voice is recorded.
- Make the highest quality video you can. Then put the file in your Google Drive and then share the link with me. Don’t email or text it, as that may compress the file.
5. Edit and mix your audio and video separately.
This will give you the highest quality result. There are many, many programs that can be used to do this. Don’t overthink it. I recommend just choosing the two that you are most comfortable with and start there. I mixed my audio with Soundtrap and have used iMovie, ClipChamp, and the app PicPlayPost to combine my videos together in different ways. The band director in my district got really good at ProTools over the course of the spring, and we may invest in that to use going forward.
6. Plan your layout.
The classic grid is a great place to start. The app PicPlayPost will allow you to make a grid fairly easily, but will limit you to nine videos at a time. To include more, just make several grids, save them to your device, and then combine those saved grids together in one master grid as your final product. Once you have a finished video, you’ll need to upload your audio and make sure everything is lined up. This is where the clap will help you. I keep the clap in until the very end, and then trim the beginning of the video to remove it.
7. Post the performance.
Your kids will want to see the results of their hard work and share it with the world! It’s important to note that before posting the video online and sharing publicly to seek permission from the publisher or copyright holder for sync rights, in addition to students and their parents. With permission, upload your video to YouTube, post it on your school’s social media accounts, email the link out to parents and school staff, etc.
Venture into larger territory.
With one virtual choir performance under my belt, I moved on to creating a full concert in collaboration with my colleague, our high school’s band director. Together we put together a 45-minute spring concert featuring one virtual performance by each of our high school ensembles. Was it as good as an in-person concert? No, but it came pretty close. It was our attempt at replacing the irreplaceable—the magic of making music with other people. We premiered the video on YouTube at a designated time to make it an “event.” Nearly all of our students and parents tuned in, as did many administrators, other teachers, and students’ relatives who live far away. In this way, we actually reached more people than we would have with a regular in-person concert, which was a lovely positive in the midst of this stressful time.
Anna Wentlent attended the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, York St. John College, and Boston University. She loves working with middle school students and spent most of her career working as a middle school choir and general music teacher. She teaches at the Singapore American School in Singapore.View Author Page
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