Virtual choirs connect people during social distancing

[Here are two stories about how singers are creatively using technology to evoke a sense of being together when they have to be physically separated. More about virtual choirs can be found in stories in Kent Online and CNN and a 2:48 minute radio segment from ABC News in Australia. –Matthew]

[Image: The Sofa Singers. Credit:]

[From Positive News]

Online choir spreads joy and togetherness during coronavirus outbreak

When it became impossible to run his real-life choirs as normal this week, vocal leader James Sills launched The Sofa Singers. The virtual group invites people from all over the world to connect through the power of song – from the comfort of their sofas

Words by Lucy Purdy
March 17, 2020

At 7.30pm GMT on Tuesday, a choir met for its first ever rehearsal. Starting tentatively to the sound of a few throats being nervously cleared, its members soon warmed up, grinning at each other while belting out verse after verse, before chatting excitedly afterwards over cups of tea.

But they weren’t flouting official UK advice to avoid mass gatherings; it was all done online, with people taking part via video from sofas all over the world. The mass singalong, The Sofa Singers, is the brainchild of James Sills – a musician and vocal leader who lives in north Wales – and it has been designed to spark joy and togetherness amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

“I was so moved by seeing the neighbourhood singing in Italy and wondered if we could recreate that spirit with an online choir,” Sills told Positive News on Tuesday evening, as he carried out last-minute preparations for the first rehearsal. “And so the idea for The Sofa Singers was born. I guess it’s a bit of an experiment. But it will be amazing to have hundreds of people joining me for a simultaneous singalong.”

People signed up to the choir in advance using a video conferencing app, receiving a link from Sills to the online rehearsal space. At 7.30pm, they were then able to see and hear Sills, who took them through the song bit by bit. There were 500 digital spaces available ­– all offered for free.

The tune of choice, to capture a spirit of resilience and global unity? Sills selected Stand By Me, which was originally performed in 1961 by US singer and songwriter Ben E. King. The performance also featured a segue into Just The Way You Are by Bruno Mars, with optional harmonies and backing vocals.

Crucially, participants ­were also able to see each other on-screen during the 45-minute rehearsal (though not able to hear each other, due to the technical issues that would create).

Sills encouraged everyone to sing with a smile. “This is a really important part of The Sofa Singers,” he said, “as it helps everyone feel more connected.”

The guidance on the website for the new project encourages participants to “sing as if no one is listening.. because they won’t be!”, and invites the singers to “share the final performance with other people.”

Tina Roth Eisenberg, a Swiss designer who is based in New York, took part in the online choir. “It was so liberating that nobody could hear each other,” she told Positive News. “It was like singing in the car, but not alone.”

Eisenberg added: “It was absolutely heart-opening to see everyone in their homes grooving and singing along. My heart is full!”

Another participant, Lou Baxter, tweeted after the event: “Just spent a lovely 45 minutes singing online with The Sofa Singers and 400 other people from around the world! Still smiling and really looking forward to joining again next week.”

Sills, who is the author of Do Sing, hopes that the project “will make us feel more connected and positive in these difficult times,” and concluded: “Let’s keep singing.”

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[From Chicago’s Daily Herald]

Rolling Meadows HS choir virtual ‘West Side Story’ performance goes viral

Christopher Placek
March 21, 2020

The Rolling Meadows High School Choir was set to perform the music of “West Side Story” in concert Thursday night to a crowd of hundreds. Their substitute viral virtual performance has been seen by thousands.

By the magic of iMovie and Video Collage editing software, student Grace Anderson was able to splice together nearly two dozen separate video clips of choir members singing “Somewhere” into a seamless, streamlined online performance.

The Twitter page for the school’s choirs program posted the video Thursday night. By Saturday evening, the video had more than 70,000 views.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave them a shout-out, tweeting, “This is incredible! @RMHS_Choir is showing us all that the show must go on.”

Students from Rolling Meadows and other schools throughout the state have been home all week after Pritzker’s March 13 decision to close schools in the wake of the coronavirus. On Friday, he extended school closures through at least April 7.

Anderson and Rolling Meadows choir Director Caitlyn Walsh were brainstorming ways to cheer up members of the choir after realizing their long-planned performance would be postponed.

After devising the virtual choir idea Wednesday, it was a quick turnaround to produce the video before releasing it Thursday night.

Walsh sent out instructions to students on the school’s learning website, including an accompaniment track each could sing along to. To show their solidarity, students picked up red T-shirts to wear in the video — intended for their original stage performance — from Walsh’s house.

After getting all of the videos, Anderson spent six hours individually editing the clips and making sure they all started at the same time.

The students had an online video launch party at 7 p.m. — the time of their originally scheduled show. They also posted videos of solo performances of other songs, but the group rendition of “Somewhere” has especially taken hold.

“We were going to use it as a finale because we really loved the message of the song, even before COVID-19 hit,” Walsh said. “The most impactful video is the group one because it’s so cool, and the message of unity is really important for everyone right now.

“Even though we’re confining ourselves due to the virus, we have this incredible tool of technology and in my and my students’ case, music, to make sure we stay connected and let everyone know there’s always a way to make it work.”


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