St. Mike’s Chorale does virtual choir video of Vermont state song
Director Erin Grainger brings editing skills to project that caps unusual improvised semester for student vocal music ensemble
Choirs and other musical ensembles all over the world are trying to re-create some semblance of working together, says Erin Grainger, who this year directs the Saint Michael’s College Chorale and is adjunct faculty in Fine Arts/music.
The group’s regular longtime director Nathaniel Lew of the Fine Arts/music faculty said he was impressed by a recent virtual project initiated by Grainger, who ran the Chorale for the last two years to facilitate sabbatical work by Lew. “Erin made this amazing virtual choir video of the Vermont State Song with members of the Chorale that ought to be shared with the campus, the alumni and the world,” he said.
The Vermont state song is These Green Mountains (words and music) by Diane Martin, arranged by Lew in the version on the recording which was directed and edited by Grainger.
Grainger said her recent undertaking was modeled after Eric Whitacre’s famous “virtual choirs,” as a way to share some music to the public, even with the recent challenges presented by social distancing. “There is really no replacement for singing together,” Grainger said. “It’s more like being a studio recording artist, which is a rather solitary activity. Luckily for us, we had already learned and performed this piece together earlier in the year, so revisiting the music was a bit of reminder of what we had already done together.”
She said that with Chorale members, “We did a few test runs with rough recordings of other music we’d been working on during the term …which we’ve decided to keep to ourselves. We reviewed the parts during our Zoom classes — this means one person playing the parts on the piano in their own location and singers singing along at home, but with their microphones on mute since it is impossible to sing together on the Internet, due to lag time.”
Then, singers individually recorded themselves singing,” Grainger explained. “While they do this, they are watching a video of me conducting while listening to a recording of the piece with a click-track. It’s the click-track that really makes it feel inorganic, like studio recording. “
“The next step is my job as music director: I edit the audio tracks together separately from the video,” she said. “Then I compile the video and lay in the mixed audio track. I admit there are minor adjustments made in the audio, but it’s chiefly to correct little aspects that we’d be able execute well if we were together.”
Adjusting voice balance, for example, is something Grainger says she does as a conductor when her students sing together as a group, anyway. “I also add a bit of reverb, so it sounds a bit more like we might have been in the recital hall instead of our bedrooms!”
“The work done with video editing is a bit self-evident. It’s just dumb luck that I have a bit of experience doing some low-level audio and video editing — it’s certainly not a skill I expect professors or choral conductors to have, and this is the other reason it is no replacement for actually singing together — these are mostly an exercise in note-learning and AV editing, not learning to listen to and respond to other musicians,” Grainger said. “But having been given the choice of handful of songs, the Chorale chose the state song…and we might just invite some other Vermont choirs to submit recordings and get in on the mix!”
Also, Grainger said, “I held a virtual student voice recital last week on Thursday, April 30, organized by my adjunct colleague Adam Hall.” The students in the recital were both Grainger’s and Hall’s students. “We usually have this term-end event in the Recital Hall, but instead, students sang to each other from their homes using pre-recorded accompaniment or sang a cappella.”