The Continuation of Choir in a Virtual Setting

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March 13, 2020 marks the date millions of students around the United States remember like it was yesterday. It is the day on which schools announced students would be leaving their campuses in order to work in a safer, virtual setting at home due to the emergence of COVID-19. However, long before the pandemic spread to the United States, March 13th was also the date on which various students of the vocal arts program at Golden Valley High School had marked upon their calendars. This particular day was the day Golden Valley’s show choir would attend its first competition of 2020; a competition for which the program had spent months preparing. As a result of the school closures, this competition was cancelled and the competition sets were never to be seen again beyond the pieces of it scattered throughout the internet. From that point on, choir was forced to adapt to learning and performing music in a virtual setting.
Choir is often defined as a group of individuals who sing and perform together in a public location. However, this definition is increasingly complex when these individuals are separated and restricted to singing on an online platform. These restrictions primarily lie in a group’s inability to sing uniformly online, which is due to the limitations that the internet possesses regarding its variations in speed and connection. Additionally, a choir’s chemistry may also be affected as choir members are inhibited from feeding off the energy of others in a room or forming deep connections that provide a sense of unity. How exactly are choirs proceeding in the face of these inhibiting factors that are so prevalent due to the quarantine?
Berean Haddad, the current choir director at Golden Valley High School, is an example of an individual taking these factors into account through her approach to furthering the vocal arts program on an online platform. Although choir members can no longer sing or perform live, Haddad is making use of the online setting in order to replicate and further the methods utilized when students still learned on campus. Rather than performing songs live as a collective group, students are instead pre-recording themselves and meshing their voices on the audio editing program Soundtrap.
Beyond recording, students are also learning more about music theory and specific knowledge that is relevant when learning a piece of music, such as note duration and vocal dynamics. Additionally, since dancing is also a prominent aspect of performing in the vocal arts program, students are learning choreography virtually and dancing from their own homes. Even though solutions regarding live singing and dancing have been established, an inhibitory factor that still exists is the lack of chemistry that results when students are not learning in the same environment. Mrs. Haddad is making various efforts to ensure that the chemistry of the choir is not affected. Prior to virtual learning, Haddad split each choir into smaller “families” in which students could grow closer through asking questions when they need help or when they just need someone to talk to.
As choir has shifted into a virtual environment, Haddad has continued to create “families” and to promote the strength of these bonds through her implementation of various family bonding activities. Through these activities, the chemistry of the entire choir is in turn transformed as well due to the collective experiences that these activities provide for the students. Ultimately, all of these factors combined allow the choir program to proceed in a virtual environment despite the limitations that exist on an online platform.
Concerts are significant events for choir at Golden Valley as students learn music months in advance in order to showcase what the program has been working on each quarter. Although a live audience cannot be present and students cannot gather together to perform, these concerts are still occurring online. In order to prepare for these concerts, the vocal arts program is making use of online tools so that the choir can showcase its performances as they would in a normalized public setting. Rather than performing live on a stage, clips and audio tracks of students will be pre-recorded and managed using editing software.
Another prominent factor in performing is storytelling. To pursue this storytelling aspect, visual effects and strategic placement of students on a screen are both methods being utilized to create an appearance of students interacting with each other and the audience through the camera. As of right now, all of these preparations are being made and the formulation of the concert is still in progress.
Although all of these methods and preparations differ from the “traditional” perception of choir, they allow for the choir program to proceed despite the current isolated circumstances of individuals in quarantine.