The story of Virtual Q
In these challenging times when we can’t meet up in person, you can still form an online quartet – here’s how we did it!
Jasmine, Claire, Emma and Fran are all members of Vocal Dimension Chorus (VDC).
In June, after the amazing online Region 31 Convention weekend, Claire and Fran were chatting on WhatsApp about missing singing, like we all do! We talked about forming an online quartet just to do one video, for fun.
Fran knew that Emma had been wanting to do quartetting for years so, with Claire as lead, we would then just need a tenor. In the days before lockdown during a VDC rehearsal, we had run through a chorus song as a scratch quartet with Jasmine and were amazed by how well our voices blended. So Claire asked Jasmine… and then there were four!
We met on Zoom and chatted about what we wanted out of this experience and how the logistics would work so that we were all on the same page. It felt very exciting to be starting something new, whatever came out of it!
Rehearsing online involves a lot more talking as we work out dynamics and interpretation without actually being able to all sing it through together. We each take turns to sing our part while the others are on mute, so we can tune in to each other’s tone. Of course, it’s most useful for the lead to sing and the others to be singing along at home (on mute), but duets with other parts are helpful to synchronise harmony moves and intonation. Each part can record themselves singing with the lead to listen back to. We are also very lucky to have two of our members living together so have a bass clef duet to also sing along to!
Between rehearsals, as the song develops, we can send recordings of our parts to the group to practise against. WhatsApp is excellent for this as you can mark messages or files to return to them easily. We even set up a Trello board to organise recordings and sheet music, plus we could compile a long list of songs in an ever-expanding ideas pile.
If you have somebody who is happy to play with Audacity, Garageband or some other free sound software programme, you can each record against the lead part and upload it to hear the whole blend, as if you were singing in the same room. That way you can then hear where each part needs to tweak something or where the quartet needs to add more dynamics or shape to the song.
We did meet twice in person while observing social distancing. The trick is finding somewhere outside but with some protection from the British weather. The first time we met up was on one of the hottest days in the year, so we found shelter in the woods. The second time was at Hove Lagoon where we serenaded water-skiers as they went past. It was wonderful to sing together but we decided not to meet again when the COVID-19 numbers started creeping up again.
Then we chose the song for our video! Fran had arranged “All Is Found’ from Frozen 2 and as we hadn’t seen another quartet arrangement yet, we thought it was a good option!
We all learned it on our own, then Claire recorded the lead part and the rest of us recorded our parts with Claire ‘in our ears’. We all recorded on our mobile phones, contending with the usual cacophony of neighbour’s dogs, lorries, etc! Jasmine put all of the parts together on Audacity – we were amazed at how well synced they were! Jasmine was able to get rid of some white noise and adjusted the volumes to get the right balance. Other than that, we really wanted the audio to sound ‘real’, rather than autotuned and overly-edited, so only made minor tweaks.
We then started brainstorming about the video. Claire’s daughter, Ella (Starella Productions) – who had already done some editing projects for other music groups – was up for the challenge! We had visions of filming, standing two meters apart along a river (as this ties in with the lyrics) in white gowns gently wafting in the breeze. Oh so glamorous! But on second thoughts, there was every risk of us corpsing and it all coming across as a bit cheesy! Plus we had already proven that it was possible to produce the audio remotely, why not the visual too?
In the end we decided to record at home, in the dark, with candles. The song is a lullaby and a dark background meant that we wouldn’t be showing our messy lounges! We played around with different candles and set-ups until we found something that would work for all of us and look good! We agreed on how far away from the camera would be and also a little choreo (like blowing out the candles). The rest was up to Ella to work her magic!
Virtual quartetting is the way forward over the next year or two – imagine how great it will be when you finally meet up at the end of all of this and you already have a few songs (and maybe videos) under your belt! Or you can take the opportunity to sing with people in other countries! Maybe you’ll never meet in person, but you will have created something beautiful in a challenging time.
Stay safe and just keep singing!