Sasha Middeldorp ’18 and Arch Williams ’18, both members of Grinnell Singers, are helping launch a new project called the Grinnell Virtual Choir. In the project's most recent video, 25 singers used the technology to perform a movement from Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil.
In a virtual choir, each participant records one or more individual singing parts of a particular song, and the videos are then synchronized and combined into a group performance.
In the current video, Middeldorp and Williams are among the singers testing virtual choir technology and demonstrating how it works. It’s the first step in introducing both a testing tool for better choir singing and a new opportunity for musical interaction among alumni and current students.
Middledorp says she found her initial singing experience to be “simple and straightforward” from a technological standpoint. “I only had to practice once or twice to figure out some of the logistics,” Middeldorp says. “I was in a practice room, and I just recorded it on whatever video recorder is built in on the computer and watched John [Rommereim] conduct on the same device.”
Williams did the same “after finding a quiet spot in my house where I could sing,” he says. “I did a couple of takes before submitting my video. I adjusted based on the recordings of my own voice and as I got a better handle on the music.”
One of the goals of the virtual choir project is to develop innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Using videos to record individual parts may provide a better way to test and evaluate the contribution of singers and improve their accountability in the chorus.
“Often in choir you think you know your lines but you’re just relying on the person next to you,” Middeldorp says. “When it’s just you singing alone you really take ownership over the music. One of the great benefits of this is that you know if you’re truly solid on your part independently.”
The Grinnell Singers have already begun putting virtual choir technology to the test as a rehearsal tool. They are using it to practice Duruflé’s Requiem for a combined concert with the Grinnell Oratorio Society later this spring.
“I think that using virtual choir capabilities will be an exciting experience and will help us learn the music in a new, cool, and different way then we normally do in class,” Williams says.
Learning the Technology
Austin Morris ’15, a mathematics major and Grinnell Singers alumnus, is the talent behind the scenes. He says learning to synchronize audio and video files from various devices has been challenging but worthwhile. Innovation Fund support for the project helped secure dedicated equipment for his work.
“Once we get the videos from all the people that we contact, it’s my job to put them all together in the final project,” Morris says. “My goal is to make it look as good and complete as possible.”
Fun and Inspiring
“The main goal of the Grinnell Virtual Choir is to create an online platform that facilitates choral performances that are connected virtually,” says John Rommereim, Blanche Johnson Professor of Music. “It’s a way to engage alumni in an artistic way so they can collaborate with current students and with each other.”
Current singers and alumni are invited to contribute additional vocal parts on All-Night Vigil and other works via the website. In addition to instructions for accessing the score and conducting video, the site offers musical and technical tips for getting a workable recording.
Essentially, singers can make it as simple as putting on earbuds and singing into their phones or laptops.
“We want it to be fun and a little inspiring,” Rommereim says. “We’re hoping it will blossom into a significant artistic endeavor.”
Sasha Middeldorp ’18 is an anthropology major from Northfield, Minn. Arch Williams ’18 is a chemistry and political science double major from Minneapolis.