By Miya Higashiyama

Kenilworth Union’s music ministry is beloved by the church community. Though Covid-19 threatened the ability of these musicians to come together in song and prayer, some technology, time, and agility has helped the music ministry continue to share offerings with the congregation.

The process for creating a virtual choir is immense in the sense that there are several layers and steps that have to be added one at a time. It takes about a week to form one video that the congregation sees on Sunday depending on the song and how many people are involved.

To start the process, Joel Fox records Susan Klotzbach’s piano or organ accompaniment in the sanctuary which is then distributed to choir section leaders Alyssa Bennett and Miya Higashiyama. The singers then play Susan with headphones on in their ears while they sing their lines. Each choir member/section leader then uploads their files to a Google Drive folder in which Miya begins to put the virtual choir together by layering the audio and then each voice on top one at a time, and then formatting the picture visually so that viewers can see everyone in frame. After all the parts are aligned which can take a bit of time splicing and editing, Miya then adjusts the sound so the sections are even and we sound as normal as possible in this setting Joel Fox puts in the final audio edits shortly before Sunday’s service.

People are recording from all over! Most of the choir is in Evanston or Chicago, while others are in Seattle or elsewhere sheltering with family. It takes about twice the amount of work and planning to do something virtual musically than live, but as Miya said, it is completely worth the effort. Seeing everyone on screen singing together even though it’s not “live” warms the heart every time and it creates a sense of unity and camaraderie despite the circumstances.

There are some things that are just impossible to transfer from live to video; for example, fearless leader Lisa Bond is not in front conducting and singers have to be much more intentional and articulate in how they cut off consonants and phrases so it lines up cleanly. Alyssa heavily marks up PDFs so singers can be in sync as much as possible. There is also something to be said about the magic of singing with a group of people live that can be lost in video. Recording alone with headphones on can feel isolating and lonely, and can also be really difficult musically! Not to mention all sorts of funny bloopers that can happen mid filming, such as background noise, dropping cameras, etc.

Virtual choirs are not the same as live choirs, however they are far superior to nothing and are still meaningful in a different, unique way given the pandemic circumstances. Singing together in a unit is just a breeding ground for germs due to all the spit/air being shared, so this may be the way things will be for the foreseeable future. The music ministry is grateful Kenilworth Union Church has been so positive and accepting of these the music community feels blessed to be able to give back as well in times like these.