Just in case we have to take another lap…are you prepared?
In the first year of the pandemic, the General Accounting Office posted results of their research in 2020-21, the first year of the pandemic (GAO, May 2022). They depicted the obstacles to learning – what we all experienced to some degree – like this:
I have been looking into, thinking about, and researching contingencies and protocols should we need them. This blog shares the more relevant and helpful resources I have found. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources now, so let’s look at the basic considerations, then address preparedness and solutions. Fasten your seat belt! I’ll touch on the following:
- To mask / don’t mask
- Rehearse online / rehearse modified live
- Rehearse live with accommodations
- Who are your students?
- What is their experience? Have they sung before?
- Can they read?
- What resources / tools will you need? Is there budget for that?
- What resources will the students need? Is there budget to help with that?
- Do your administration and counselors understand what you and your students will be dealing with?
- Can you recruit new students? How?
- Can you “place” students / voices virtually?
- Are you prepared with your accompanist?
- Can you actually GROW your program virtually?
One thing we did learn from 2020-22 is that the key to holding programs together is to keep singing. Following are a few of those reasons:
- The students, singers, and community needs to keep singing for their sense of well-being and connectedness (Clift et al.; Fancourt & Finn).
- Singing socially grounds us with a community of singers.
- We all need to keep our “chops” up and voices healthy through singing.
- Singing helps us anticipate and prepare for gathering live.
Before you hang and shake your head at the possibility of a redux, you might find some finding from the following research by Daffern et al. interesting and surprising:
“Before the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, virtual choirs were a novelty, perhaps the most famous being Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir, which initially involved multi-tracking solo recordings and was later developed to include a real-time element, connecting performers across the globe. The aim was to bring singers and their love of music together utilizing emerging technologies in novel ways. Addressing the potential wellbeing benefits of Whitaker’s virtual choir, Fancourt and Steptoe (2019) conducted a study which assessed the perceptions of participants from Whitacre’s virtual choir project compared to participants of live choir rehearsals, focusing on questions centered around social presence, and emotion regulation. Those engaged in the Whitacre project self-rated social presence higher than matched singers in live choirs, the authors concluding that virtual experiences may be valuable for those who cannot engage in live choir experience.” [emphasis added]
Is quality virtual singing possible? Many (quality) things are possible. Sure, it’s not the same as live, but we also recognize solving challenges together is what makes humanity enjoyable.
The Oxford Dictionary defines contingencies as “a provision for an unforeseen event or circumstance.”
What You Can and Should Teach Online
- Time signatures
- How to count
- Finding Do
- Interval exercises they can do themselves
- How to part-sing with yourself (record a part and then sing along with it – a private duet you can do with your smart phone). Tools are available from ToolsforConductors.com.
Teaching Vocal Skills Online
- Singing posture
- Basic/advanced vocal pedagogy
- Listening to and experimenting with tone
- Listening to a variety of choirs and commenting
- Discovering new styles/genres of music
- Discussing vocal health
- Exercises to maintain facility and even expand range
- How to micro-tune with a smart-phone app (email me for how-to). It is actually really fun!
- Solo singing
- Overtone singing…can be transformative. Singers love acquiring this skill. Give it a try (lots on YouTube)
- Taking care of the voice (for example, https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/taking-care-your-voice)
Basic Musicianship Online
- Note recognition on Grand Staff
- Types of notes
- Finding DO (Key signatures – what they are/do)
- Using rehearsal tracks with MatchMySound, which allow immediate feedback for at-home practice
- Piano basics (you never know who you will inspire)
Group Rehearsing Online
- Latency solved (https://realtimeaudio.com/)
Run your process several times. Make certain bugs are ironed out before you hold your first rehearsal.
Tori Cook (2020) recommends, among other things, “Communicate to your singers. Once you have everything planned out, you’ll want to notify your singers. In your communications, include the following:
- Information about the date and time of event.
- Recommended login time (plan for approximately 5-10 minutes to get the application launched and working properly).
- Clear instructions on how to access and launch the Zoom (or other video conferencing) application. Send the specific meeting URL links in a calendar invite to make it easy for participants to click and join. Note: Mobile users should download the Zoom app ahead of time.
- Who to contact if your singers are experiencing technical difficulties or are unable to join.
- Explain the process as you determined above. Remind people they will likely be muted most of the time and to email any initial questions ahead of time.”
Kathryn E. Schneider from the New York City Bar Chorus recently held successful virtual sectionals. Here is her slightly edited process:
- Each virtual sectional was scheduled for 30 minutes, one after the other.
- Singers received meeting links. Online calendars are helpful.
- Kathy started the rehearsal with all participants unmuted. Everyone was able to say hello and chat for a bit. Then, Kathy laid out the ground rules before muting everyone to begin work on the first piece.
- Kathy worked through the music by playing piano, singing, or both. Her iPad was standing left of the piano bench for the video.
- While Kathy rehearsed each piece, she would periodically watch the chat box and answer any questions while they came in.
- At the end of each piece or at a good stopping moment, Kathy would unmute all participants and answer any incoming questions before moving on. She would then mute them all again before working on the next piece.
- At the end, Kathy unmuted everyone to wrap up and say goodbye.
This process worked well for Kathy with minimal issues so it’s a good starting place if you’re new to virtual rehearsals. Of course, we can all consider hybrid/modified in-person section rehearsals – smaller groups, less risk, singing “live”.
In “A Verywell Report: Music Helped Most of Us Get Through the Pandemic” (Jan. 4, 2022), Amy Morin pointed out that music improves our mental health, with some of the things being
- boost in mood
- an outlet to process/express difficult emotions
- staying connected while social distancing
An Important Key
Choose the right literature to sustain a choir during online or modified rehearsals. This is a key to keeping singers engaged and energized.
- Strongly consider unison music to begin the process. Unison singing can be challenging but also very instructive.
- Choose voicing that the singers can learn online, at their level, and can be parted out without great difficulty.
- Choose literature that will sound good and encourage singers if it must be recorded.
- Imagine how this literature will help singers learn and prepare to finally sing together. Perfect your process.
- Latency has been solved (see above). The problems of 2020 and 2021 should not hold you back.
- Consider Soundtrap as an online recording studio. Free for singers, easy to use. There is a fee for conductor, school or district (which may vary).
- Can you hold section rehearsals…live or online?
- Decide what you will do with the music when it is learned.
Masks and Ventilation
Margaret Harris (2021) wrote “The good news is that not all face masks perform as poorly as cotton ones. From an acoustical perspective, the best option is a so-called singer’s mask. These devices incorporate a frame that keeps the fabric away from the wearer’s mouth, and the bigger ones form a resonant cavity as well. ‘It’s just like singing into a small room,’ Moore explained. ‘Although they look a little funny, they are the way you want to go.’
“In the longer term, Moore suggested that other solutions might come to the fore. ‘The real way we probably need to deal with exhaled contagion is to redirect the flow in the room,’ he said. If air were brought in from the floor and allowed to exit through the ceiling of concert venues and other public spaces, he added, ‘significant progress against the contagion’ would result.”
Contingencies. If we experience a boomerang virus and you have taken time to consider your options, or, better, to solve them just in case, you avoid the panic, smile, then inform your singers “not to worry…I got this.”
Comments most welcome.
Stuart Hunt is the founder of sight-reading and music literacy ToolsforConductors.com and has been a conductor and music educator for over 50 years. He can be contacted at .
- American Psychological Association. (2020, July 13). 8 ways teachers can continue supporting students during COVID-19. Available online at: https://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/teachers-supporting-students (accessed Nov. 9, 2022).
- Clift, S., Hancox, G., Morrison, I., Hess, B., Kreutz, G., and Stewart, D. (2010). Choral singing and psychological wellbeing: quantitative and qualitative findings from English choirs in a cross-national survey. J. Appl. Arts Health 1, 19–34. doi: 10.1386/jaah.1.1.19/1.
- Cook, T. (Mar 17, 2020). Virtual learning: taking your choir rehearsals online. Available online at: https://blog.chorusconnection.com/virtual-learning-taking-your-choir-rehearsals-online (accessed Nov. 8, 2022).
- Daffern, H., Balmer, K. and Brereton, J. (2021). Singing together, yet apart: the experience of UK choir members and facilitators during the Covid-19 pandemic. Front. Psychol. 12:624474. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.624474.
- Fancourt, D., and Finn, S. (2019). What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A Scoping Review. Health Evidence Network Synthesis Report, No. 67. Copenhagen: World Health Organization.
- Fancourt, D., and Steptoe, A. (2019). Present in body or just in mind: differences in social presence and emotion regulation in live vs. virtual singing experiences. Front. Psychol. 10:778. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00778.
- GAO. (May 2022). Pandemic learning: as students struggled to learn, teachers reported few strategies as particularly helpful to mitigate learning loss. GAO-22-104487. https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-22-104487.pdf.
- Harris, M. (Dec 6, 2021). Physics points the way to COVID-safe singing. Physicsworld. Available online at: https://physicsworld.com/a/physics-points-the-way-to-covid-safe-singing/ (accessed Nov. 8, 2022).
- Morin, A. (Jan 4, 2022). A verywell report: music helped most of us get through the pandemic. Available online at: https://www.verywellmind.com/verywell-report-music-helped-us-through-the-pandemic-5181803 (accessed Nov. 8, 2022).
- Whitacre, E. (2018). About the Virtual Choir. Available online at: https://ericwhitacre.com/the-virtual-choir/about (accessed Nov. 8, 2022).