With all of the COVID restrictions to keep our choirs safe and the news of outbreaks in choirs, we might want to throw up our hands and say we just have to wait this out to engage our choirs in worship ministry. That wait might be many more months to a year before it is safe to gather as we did before. In the meantime, our choir members are not having the opportunity to use their gifts and calling to lead in worship. There are things we can do to engage the choir.
In a post a few weeks ago, I mentioned a number of ways to engage our choirs during these days. Check it out. In that article, I mentioned the possibilities of a virtual/live hybrid choral presentation. Today I will go into more detail about this possibility.
I just recently began as interim in one of our NC churches that has an awesome choir, band, orchestra and vocal team. Their choir has been sidelined for months due to COVID. Some churches have brought their choirs back–socially distanced in the choir loft and wearing masks. I think this is a great idea, but getting the sound from this might be somewhat anemic. Think about it, you drop your choir to about 1/4 of it’s usual size, cutting the sound 75%, and then add masks to further decrease the sound and intelligibility. While this is a great way to encourage and include your choir called to minister in worship, the sound will probably not be very engaging unless you mic them like a vocal ensemble.
Further, you have a number of choir members that should not be gathering in larger groups right now due to their age or medical condition. These people seemingly have no way to stay involved in the ministry that brings great joy to them.
There is a way to involve everyone in the choir regardless of their age, medical condition, concern of large gatherings, etc. and provide a great worship experience for your church that is quite engaging. Enter the syncretism of pre-COVID live experiences and COVID virtual experiences.
Most everyone has adjusted to this new way of life. Just yesterday I had four Zoom meetings in four morning hours. Before COVID, I had virtual meetings regularly, but not 15-20 a week as I do some weeks. Virtual has become more accepted and more commonplace in most everyone’s lives.
So, why not engage the virtual tools in worship to allow ALL your choir members to stay engaged using their gifts and talents to glorify God.
In the church I am serving, we are going to begin preparing some virtual/live hybrid songs for worship. This is what one of the songs will look like:
The choir will learn the song and individuals will be videoed singing the song to prepare a virtual choir video that can be used in in-person worship. See my post on how to do this. This production of a virtual choir will be easier to produce because you can merely set up one scene for the entire song in the video.
I will hold some brief in-person rehearsals with lots of distance between singers in a large sanctuary with mandatory masking. Only some of the choir members will be able to attend these rehearsals. Safety will be strongly emphasized. Most of the work will be done at home as people are given practice tracks to learn their music. (Check out this tutorial on how to produce practice tracks for your choir.) Additionally, we will hold some Zoom rehearsals for fellowship, encouragement and music learning. Choir members will be given instructions on how to produce their part in the virtual choir project as outlined in my virtual choir post. For those that are not able to do this, we will provide assistance in recording their part.
The virtual choir video will be synced to a click track so that we can utilize live band and orchestra to accompany the song.
Newer anthems may have STEM tracks that you can purchase that include click tracks and the ability to fill out your sound with instruments you do not have live. Otherwise, you can produce a click track to sync with the choral track. Then, when you produce the virtual component, merely output the audio for that video as (1) the click track on one channel and the choir mix on the other channel, or (2) the click track on one channel and the instruments you want to add to your live mix, along with the choir mix, on the other channel. This way, your live instruments can play with the click and the choir track with the option of additional instruments can be added to the house mix.
In order for the instrumentalists to play in sync by using the click track, you MUST have an in-ear monitoring system for delivering the audio of the click track to key instrumentalists that will keep the presentation in perfect sync with the virtual component. This can be done through a wired system (budget systems to expensive mixing systems exist) or utilizing a wireless system (these can be purchased as budget systems that have good reviews such as this one to some that are very costly).
The easiest way to do this is to merely use an accompaniment track and no live musicians. Then you would play the virtual video and sing along, taking away many of the tech issues. If you want to utilize your live musicians, then a click track and in-ear monitoring system is necessary. Actually, some instrumentalists may be able to play along with the track successfully. Listen to see which ones may work.
Some choir members will be in the choir loft wearing masks.
Each week you can rotate a small segment of your choir that can safely distance in your choir loft. They will sing their parts live during the hybrid presentation.
Also, soloists and other ensembles perhaps will be on stage with microphones to sing their parts live.
If you have soloists, small ensembles, children’s choirs or youth choirs participating in the anthem, depending on their number and the safety of placing them, they could sing live in this presentation.
All instruments will be live and playing with the click track so the virtual choir will be in sync with the live portion. (You can supplement with STEM tracks if you desire to fill out missing parts.)
Every person on stage–whether singer or instrumentalist–will be playing/singing live. The virtual choir video will be playing in sync adding the additional sound of the virtual choir and any optional added instrumentation. Again, to save much complication, you can merely sing with an accompaniment track synced to the virtual choir component and have no live instrumentalists.
When all this comes together, it will produce a powerful presentation that utilizes the gifting of everyone in your worship ministry that wants to participate, AND it utilizes the gifting of those that can pull off all the added tech needs for this to happen.