The “virtual choir” thing can actually work, but it carries with it an immense time investment on the part of the person who does the construction. Here is one of the recent “virtual choir” anthems I’ve done with my St. Mark’s singers:
I chose Natalie Sleeth’s best-known hymn in SATB format as a good entry-level option, as this was the first one I tried with the choir. There are a lot of pure unison sections, which made it a bit simpler. If you listen to it, I believe it actually sounds somewhat convincing as an analog to a choir singing together in a common space. What it involved:
- I lay down the piano track by itself.
- I record myself singing each SATB voice part over the piano track, which becomes a sound file for each (e.g. “Soprano Track”, “Alto Track”, etc.)
- I mail the tracks and a scan of the music to my choir with instructions on how to record their voice part and send it back to me.
- I then collect all the sound files that people mail me.
- I then use the free sound editing software Audacity to layer each voice track over the piano part.
- I do surgery on each voice part, making sure that people’s timing lines up. It can take up to 20 minutes per voice part.
- I then have the finished product. It can take 5-10 hours for this process.
Here are the instructions I send to the choir:
- Print out the music
- Get one device to play the track and one device to record your voice.
- Use headphones with your playing device. Put headphones on one ear, and have your other ear open to hear your own voice.
- Do a bunch of dry runs to get confident with your part.
- Begin recording on your recording device, and hit play on your listening device.
- Record your voice singing so that the recording picks up your voice, but not what you are listening to.
- Send me the sound file you have created of your own voice.
If any of you have not yet tried this, and would like assistance or tips, I am happy to answer questions.
When I feature recordings like this in worship, I make double-sure to stress that it was a “VIRTUAL CHOIR” so that no one mistakes this for us having all gotten together and recorded a song together against the health and safety guidelines. Those types of optics are very important, I suspect.