Dear Islington United Church Choirs:

Here is your official invitation to participate in our first attempt at a virtual choir project! How exciting! Cynthia Smithers, Andrew Aitchison, Thom Varey and I (Jason Locke, Minister of Music) have been working to figure out exactly how to prepare and present this project so that it is accessible to as many of us as possible. The piece that we’ll be recording is “This Day”  a lovely anthem about embracing the hope and beauty of the moment and sharing love with those around us. The Islington United Church Senior Choir has sung this piece once before, so it may be somewhat in our collective memory!

There are three steps in your journey to participate in this virtual choir:

1. Learn the Music

2. Record the Music Video

3. Submit the Music Video

I’m sure that many of us have already encountered virtual choirs during this latest season – but in case you haven’t, here is a brief explanation of just what is happening when we participate in a virtual choir.  You is invited on the journey of learning (or refreshing) a piece of choral music and then using a guide track in order to record a video of yourself singing that piece.  Once the video is finished, a specialist takes all of the videos with audio and overlapps them into one large video so that we get a virtual choral experience. Here are two examples of virtual choirs:

1. The Canadian Blessing (YouTube video) – this is a collection of singers from across Canada who collaborated on this blessing.  It’s important to note that no one will be featured as soloists other than Cynthia and Andrew who know this in advance.

2. This Day (YouTube video) – this is the very early mix of a few voices working on the piece that we are doing together.  It gives you an idea of the direction we’ll be going in. Your completed video will be added to this video.

Each step is explained in detail below, and there are many wonderful resources on this page to help you accomplish each step along the way.

All videos are due by the end of the day on Saturday, June 6. Thom will take all of our submissions and prepare the virtual choir piece in time for Music Sunday, June 14, 2020.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Jason (Jason@islingtonunited.org) or Cynthia (cynthia.smithers@gmail.com) and we will do our best to be helpful!

We are so excited to be doing this first virtual choir project and look forward to receiving all of your video submissions.

There are several resources here which will be helpful for you as you learn this piece:

1. The piano accompaniment with vocal cues. Thom has provided a lovely audio of my recording of the piano part.  Listen to it several times to get the style, tempo and tone in your ear.

2. A PDF of the music. The music and the piano part will be enough for many of you to learn the piece.  For those comfortable with note-reading, this combination will give you everything you need to rehearse the music until you are comfortable with it.

3. Rehearsal audio tracks for all five parts (soprano, mezzo, alto, tenor and bass). Cynthia has prepared teaching audio tracks for the soprano, mezzo and alto; I have prepared teaching audio tracks for the tenor and bass parts. These will be especially helpful for those of you who learn more by rote than by note.

1. This Day (Soprano)

2. This Day (Mezzo Soprano)

3.  This Day (Alto)

4.  This Day (Tenor)

5.  This Day (Bass)

6. Lyric sheet with timestamps for choir entries. We have provided a single sheet with the text of the piece. The choir parts are in bold and accompanied by a timestamp that indicates one bar before each of your entries in both the piano accompaniment and practice recordings.

I cannot overstate how helpful it is to spend a few days really learning the music with accuracy.  Listen to the parts over and over until the melody, harmonies and rhythms are becoming second nature.  By the time you are ready to record it, it should be close to memorized.  And for this first piece, there is not SO much to learn.  The verses are handled by soloists and the middle and end of the piece by the entire choir.

Okay – it’s time to start learning! Move on to Step #2.

This is the step that could prove to be the trickiest, however, I think with a little persistence, it’s doable! And once people put in the time to figure it out, it’s a skill we can use and reuse!

1. For this project you will need two devices: one to play the piano/click OR practice track when it’s time to record and one to capture your video/audio. In other words, you will play the piano part OR practice track through your headphones (using the first device) so that only you can hear it; and then the second device will record your voice/video as you sing along to the piano part. The video will capture only you singing (not what’s coming through your headphones!).

2. Which devices work? Well – most newer cell phones have the video and audio capability to do this project as well as tablets and computers. You could also opt to record yourself on an actual video camera – if you have the skill to do that. What did I use? I used my laptop to play the piano part through my headphones and I used my iPhone to capture the audio and video. I found that by plugging in my earbuds, the microphone on them captured my voice really well! You can experiment with whatever devices you have – you’re even welcomed to send me a sample if you’d like to know if it’s working!

3. When it’s time to start, ensure that you are taking your video horizontally (in a landscape format); try to video yourself against a background that’s not too busy; eliminate any extra ambient noises (like fans, heaters or anything that hums); and wear earth tones that match the shirt I’m wearing the attached picture!

4. Set up your camera on a tripod or figure out how to situate your camera so that it’s sitting as close to eye-level as possible. Those of us who have already done it found this step to be a little time-consuming. Getting the camera in just the right place is really rewarding! However you manage it, be careful with your device and try to situate it so that when it’s recording you are as centred as possible and not too far away (check out the sample video again for examples of what we’re going for)!

**Hint: Print the lyric sheet and tape it below your recording device. If you forget the lyrics, calmly sneak a peek at the sheet, and don’t feel the need to bring your eyes back to the camera immediately – it will appear that you are including a “personal moment” in your performance.

5. Press record on your recording device, move to your performance space and press play on the piano track. Count along with the 12 clicks at the beginning saying the first six in your head and then “seven-eight-nine” out loud (just like in the audio teaching tracks), followed by three more silent clicks. This is important because it helps Thom to line all of our videos up! Then listen and follow along and, of course, sing when it’s time to sing!

In this picture, Cynthia is listening to the accompaniment track through her headphones that are plugged into her computer (device 1) and then she has her phone set up to capture the video/audio for the recording! And look – she taped her lyric sheet up so she could glance down if necessary and catch the words . Great job, Cynthia!)

6. This takes a little getting used to. I probably did 10 or 15 takes before I was satisfied. Cynthia and Andrew felt the same – doing many takes! And, when you’re finished and you listen back to what you’ve recorded, it will feel a bit funny to hear your voice by itself – raw and ready to be added to the other voices! Be gentle with yourself. Record and re-record until you feel satisfied that you’ve managed to sing all your parts with as much accuracy as possible. If you get frustrated, take a break, go and do some meditation with James and come back to the project a few hours later.

7. Here are some general singing tips: throughout this entire piece we are looking for warm, gentle singing. Vibrato should be kept to a minimum and only in those places where a little extra warmth is called for. There’s no need to sing particularly loud – your natural singing voice in the piano to mezzo-forte range will be perfect for this piece, of course observing dynamics but without overemphasizing anything too much. Speaking of over-emphasizing, treat consonants with care. No need to have explosive endings with a project like this. Gentle but obvious consonants placed as accurately as possible will be helpful. Even though you are singing by yourself, you have to imagine that you are blending with 20 or 30 other voices!

8. Finally, in those moments where you are not singing but rather waiting for others who are singing, simply smile and prepare yourself for your entry. No need to stare at the camera, natural is fine! Some of the footage may be edited – depending on the approach that Thom takes – but we need one complete take from everyone.

Second Recording Option

As much as possible, we would really like people to do these recordings from home. This is the beauty of this project – we can generally participate from wherever we find ourselves. However, we are also aware that there are some in the choir who do not have two  devices, so creating this recording proves difficult. Or, perhaps there are some for whom the technology is just a bit tricky.

Here’s a second option:

On the afternoon of Saturday, June 6, Thom Varey and I will be offering some 30-minute recording slots at the church. This has received special approval from the Emergency Response Team as they recognize how important projects like this are!

This would be an experience where you follow Step-1 in the process (really learn the music well) and then show up at the church, at a prescribed time, ready to record your part and we’ll take care of the technical aspects (recording and submitting of the video).

If you would like to take us up on this offer, please click below to reserve a time. If you have trouble accessing the sign up, please email Jason (jason@islingtonunited.org) for assistance.

Click to View Volunteer Opportunities on SignUp.com

Once you are happy with your video, make sure it’s saved on your device.  Please send it to Thom Varey and me (Jason).  I will give it a quick listen and make sure that notes and rhythms are on-point.  If there are any major problems, I may be in touch to have a conversation about perhaps fixing it.  If everything is good, Thom will then perform his magic by combining all the videos into one virtual choir.

To send the file, you will not be able to simply attach it to an email and send it — the file will be too large.  Please use WeTransfer.  It’s a pretty straightforward website which essentially acts as a file transfer vehicle.  Here are step-by-step instructions: 

1. Go to wetransfer.com.

2. Enter two email addresses in the sender field: jason@islingtonunited.org and tvvarey@gmail.com.

3. Enter your own email address in the appropriate field.

4. Click on the big + to add your video file. Alternately, you can “drag-and-drop” your file over the webpage.  This could take a few minutes to upload, so be patient!

5. Once everything is ready to send, click “Transfer.” You will be asked to verify your email address. Simply go to your own email account and find the security code that WeTransfer has sent to you, enter it on the WeTransfer page, click “verify” and the file will send! The sending may also take a few minutes.

I will confirm that I’ve received your video and let you know whether there is anything further to be done. Have fun!