First go at virtual or remote rehearsals

by | 20 Mar 2020 | Chorus Life | 0 comments

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has changed (and still is changing) the way we live. Social interactions and experiences around the world have been cancelled or postponed – including the Sweet Adelines regional competitions and, consequently, our weekly rehearsals – as a way to stop or delay the spread of this COVID-19. But as singers, we need to continue honing our craft and practising our instrument. With the help of technology, two of the choruses here in Region 31 – London City Singers and Vocal Dimension – were able to continue with rehearsals albeit remotely and have kindly shared what it looks like.

London City Singers

Following the UK government advice to limit social gatherings, both our Chorus Coordination Committee and Music Team acted promptly to cancel our IRL (in real life) rehearsal and set up a remote one.

Jenny Lycett, our assistant music director, shared the rehearsal plan, with timings, which were in four parts:

Part 1 – Say hello

A Zoom meeting was created where we can all ‘come in’ and say hello. The free plan of Zoom was used, which is limited to having only up to 100 participants (not a problem for us as we’re a small chorus) and the meeting to last only up to 40 minutes*. The plan was to stay on this for only ten minutes but it was great seeing everyone’s faces so we stayed chatting a bit longer.

* Some are reporting that Zoom now allows you to continue beyond 40 minutes

Part 2 – Vocal warm ups

At our normal rehearsal, we would start by doing our individual warm up for 15 minutes. This was a very important part of our vocal development so our music leaders made sure that this was still followed.

Part 3 – Watch instructional video

Simon Arnott, our music director, recorded a video with instructions and guidance on each of the songs that we’re already working with (according to his master plan). This video was uploaded to YouTube as unlisted and shared only to members. At a designated time, Simon sent us the link so we could watch it at our own pace. The video had pauses in it so we can actually do what he said in the video.

London City Singers music director, Simon Arnott, giving ‘lessons’ on a pre-recorded instructional video

We used Slack to ask questions or help with anything and that channel was busy! It was like people chatting on the risers on actual rehearsals. From the messages, some were really fast in watching the video and some were a bit behind. But that’s okay. Each of us learn at a different pace anyway and we could always watch the video at another time.

Part 4 – Recap

At another designated time, we were back on Zoom – note that this was a different meeting ID to part one – to ask questions about the ‘lessons’ per se and to discuss how we felt about the remote rehearsal and how we can improve the structure and/or change the tools used. We’ll try to explore tools where we can actually sing together as Zoom is not ideal for that due to the lag and quality of audio, depending on the internet connection of each participant. One of our members actually sounded like she was under water or drunk whenever she spoke on the video conference!

We might also try other video conferencing tools like Google Meet in future rehearsals so there just might be a follow-up to this article to see if that’s any better.

Of course, we couldn’t pass the chance to make silly frozen video faces on the call and took several screenshots – it ended our first remote rehearsals with lots of giggles.

Vocal Dimension

Just like London City Singers and groups the UK over, we took the difficult but absolutely necessary decision to cancel rehearsals and postpone our 10th Anniversary concert. Whilst we can definitely reschedule our concert, rehearsals are a different matter – thus Virtual Dimension Chorus was born!

We trialled a few methods this week with the aim to have a full, if shorter than real life, rehearsal from next week. Things will change and be developed as we all learn to get to grips with the new way of connecting.

Facebook Live

Valerie Taylor took to Facebook Live on our private VDC Chat group to get connected with the chorus and outline what we planned to do that evening then handed the baton to me so that we could test out running a physical warmup live. Valerie then did a concluding broadcast and a ‘watch this space’ message to let the chorus know what the music team would be discussing for future rehearsals. These worked really well!

Pros

Easy to use, almost everyone is a member of Facebook already so no sign up problems, easy to swap between presenters streaming, and good engagement. Members could rewatch them or see the videos (as long as we remembered to save the post!) at another time. There are also ways to save the videos to our website or YouTube.

Cons

Some got distracted by the comment notifications until they could turn them off, some came in at different times and so missed the start of the broadcasts. Not all members on Facebook.

Lessons learned

For a broadcast message, Facebook live worked really well. People can comment as they are watching and, to a degree, Valerie could read and react to the comments as they came in. The physical warmup was excellent fun to do as I dressed up a bit to make it more fun and engaging, and that was definitely reflected in the comments. You could easily run vocal and physical warmups through that platform.

Zoom

The basses separately trialled the conference application Zoom. This was a really useful exercise in order to help work out what it could be used for, and quite a lot of fun for them too!

Pros

Easy to sign up for and can be used on multiple platforms from mobile phones to Mac or Windows devices and it seemed to be fairly easy to get everyone logged on. The big advantage was to actually see everyone which made people feel more connected than Facebook.

Cons

Totally impossible to sing together (they tried!) and it can be difficult to manage the inevitable times people are talking over one another. On mobile devices you have to swipe left and right to see everyone as only four people are visible on screen at one time, so it’s better to use a laptop or PC.

Lessons learned

This is likely to be a good way to be able to run a sectional with fewer people to have higher interaction. With a larger group, there will need to be a structure and rules in place, like everyone except the presenter muted, with members raising a hand or using the typed chat function to ask questions.

Skype

The music team then had a meeting via Skype. After the inevitable scramble to find Skype IDs and get connected, this was a good option for the smaller group but definitely not for a chorus scenario. Much as it should be a simple task to connect, there is always at least one person who either can’t connect or joins and drops and joins and drops. Conclusion was that it isn’t easy or reliable enough to be workable for the chorus.

Plans

The aim is to keep as close as possible to our normal, familiar routine. So we will start rehearsals at the same normal start time each week, have a quick introduction, vocal warm ups, a physical warmup and then into the music. This has many possibilities such as Valerie directing a song, either live or pre-recorded, and we individually sing along ourselves, have our choreographer teach and/or refresh choreography, a bite-sized music spot, watch parties of past performances which we can critique and review, learning from other chorus and quartet performances.

We will plan in a virtual teabreak to keep the social part of rehearsals going. We are also going to investigate the ‘waiting room’ function of zoom, so people can ‘arrive early’ and chat before we get started.

Going forward, rehearsal plans will be shared well beforehand with timings and details on which application or software will be used for what element. This is so that everyone can be ready at the right time. We will likely start with Facebook Live, then use the more powerful desktop presentation and coordination of Zoom to run the main sections of rehearsal.

A note about members not on Facebook

We use email for all chorus communication and each section has a WhatsApp group. However, as Facebook is going to be one of the mainstays of keeping in touch for the next few weeks and months, we have to address those few members who were not on the platform. Some people were willing to reactivate their old accounts just for the duration of our rehearsal hiatus. If people have legitimate concerns about being personally on such a platform, our plan is to create a dummy account which has no notifications, is set to be totally private and whose only ‘friend’ would be one of our private group administrators.

Final thoughts

It is imperative that we all keep in touch.

For some chorus members, a rehearsal is the only regularly scheduled evening they have each week but for everyone it means a great deal. We are friends, family, spouses, supporters and champions of each other and we must use the technology we have at our disposal to keep together. It is important from a music and chorus point of view that we keep learning and keep our skills sharp but it is even more important for all our member’s mental wellbeing that we stay connected.

These are early days, no doubt we will discover easier and better ways of running virtual rehearsals as the weeks go by.

However you choose to do it, go virtual!