Introducing Choral Deep Dives: My Top Secret Quarantine Project

It’s been a whirlwind since March, and let’s be honest, the inability to socialize has been hard on everyone. While I’ve been stuck in, I’ve been working on the site quite a bit. It’s kept me somewhat sane.

Watching everyone struggle with remote learning, I kept thinking, “What if we’re remote again in the fall? Hundreds of sight singing exercises won’t be enough. Teachers will need more than that.”

I’m not delusional, I can’t solve all the problems created by remote learning in my little corner of the interwebs. I know that. And I know that nothing—nothing—can replace a rehearsal room full of kids singing. But not singing at all simply isn’t an option. So what follows is my offering – my attempt to put one more tool in your remote toolbox.

We all know the kids will need more than sight singing exercises. They’ll need to sing real choral music. They’ll need to sing with other voices, and see someone conduct them through a song.

So back in June, while watching all the virtual choir discussions going around online, I got the idea to do some deep dives on real music, with a virtual choir recording included. Today, I published the first version to the site.

They are not all finished—I have three left, which are listed at the bottom of the list below. They will be done by the end of August, but I wanted to give you this information now—again—so you’ll know what’s in your remote toolbox.

Here’s an overview:

I chose ten choral classics that were available in public domain. I tried to choose a range of difficulties. Some of these are pretty easy, some are harder.

TitleComposerPeriodStyle
Now Is The Month of MayingMorleyRenaissanceMadrigal
O Occhi Manza MiaLassoRenaissanceMadrigal
Weep O Mine EyesBennetRenaissanceMadrigal
The Hallelujah ChorusHandelBaroqueOratorio
Sicut CervusPalestrinaRenaissanceMotet
Kyrie, from Missa SecundaHasslerRenaissanceMass
Gloria, 1st movementVivaldiBaroqueMass
Heilig, Heilig, Heilig (coming soon!)SchubertClassicalMotet
Locus Iste (coming soon!)BrucknerRomanticMotet
Ave Verum (coming soon!)Mozart ClassicalMotet

I turned each song into a course, and I’m calling these special courses Choral Deep Dives. Each course has three major sections: History, Literacy, and Performance. It breaks down like this.

  • HISTORY
    • A video lesson and quiz on the musical period.
    • A video lesson and quiz on the style.
  • LITERACY
    • Solfege audio tracks with keyboard. ( like the rest of the site)
    • Solfege audio tracks with singers. Yep, the kids can sing solfege along with another singer.
  • PERFORMANCE
    • Practice audio tracks with lyrics.
    • A performance video.

On the history component—my goal was to keep these lessons short—under five minutes. So it’s not a college level lesson, I was shooting for a big picture overview. 😀 The hardest part was figuring out what not to cover.

To put this all together, I hired a friend and colleague, Larry Dodge to conduct the songs, and four students from the University of Southern Maine Music Department to sing the vocal parts. Larry is a wonderfully clear and expressive conductor. The students have been fantastic to work with, and will be excellent models for younger singers. You’re going to love them all.

  • Soprano, Mia Love
  • Alto, Molly Scott
  • Tenor, Jonas Rimkinus
  • Bass, Daniel Laverriere

For the performance video, the objective was frankly: Create a space for some some harmony and joy. I want your kids to have someone to follow, and some singers to sing with—to perform with— at the end of the course. Not all kids are thrilled about sight singing. Shocking, I know.  😀 I made the virtual video recordings primarily for fun.

Quick story: When working on the recordings, Daniel , the bass, went first. When I sent a guide track to Mia, the soprano, it had Daniel singing on the track. When she was done with her recordings, she told me how enjoyable it had been just to sing along with Daniel. We’ve all been missing that so much. So I hope this helps fill that gap a little bit.

In each performance video, you’ll see the music scrolling across the bottom, Larry in the center conducting, and the kids around him, Brady Bunch style.

Now, the pandemic created roadblocks. I can’t put a conductor and accompanist in a room together to create baseline tracks. So I used Musescore to create tracks for Larry to conduct to, and for the kids to sing with.

Have you ever tried to create a ritard that plays back correctly in music writing software? Musescore is pretty good, (and free by the way!) but what felt right one day, didn’t feel as right the next day. Soooo frustrating. So were the tracks as musical as live performers? No.

I will say, I learned a lot through this, and there are things I’d do differently next time, but I’m pretty pleased with the final result.

It’s really pretty remarkable what you can do remotely. I never met the singers, they were recommended by their choral conductor. They prepped, rehearsed and recorded in isolation. Larry lives in a different state than I do. Sometimes technology really does feel like magic.

I consider this “version one” of these Choral Deep Dives. I wanted to launch them with a few more components, but they are labor intensive and I felt it was more important to get something out the door to you now.

My thinking is they’ll be useful past the pandemic, past remote learning. I think they could be great training aids to supplement rehearsals. Imagine if you could tell the kids to come here to learn their parts, so you can focus on musicality in the rehearsal room. I think there’s some potential here.

Over the course of the year I hope to add lessons on the composers to enrich the history component, and a lesson where I analyze and breakdown the score to round out the literacy section.

Let me anticipate your questions.😀

Is there an extra cost for this?

No. These special courses are included in your membership.

Will you make more of these?

If they are well received, sure! Be sure and tell me what you think – if I hear nothing, I’ll wonder if they are useful. 😀 Tell me what worked, what didn’t. I’m pretty hard to offend and love feedback of all kinds.

Can I suggest a song for a deep dive?

You betcha! If you have song suggestions, send them on over. Please make sure they’re from public domain – that removes any copyright issues. Cpdl.org is a great resource for that. If you can send along a link from cpdl.org, well than brownie points for you, and maybe an actual brownie if we ever meet.

These songs are all SATB. Can they be used with middle school / junior high students?

I think so. In fact, because there are recordings, you’re kind of covered. Do you have a young singer who’s voice has changed and needs to sing bass? Sometimes those SAB arrangements with the compromised range are actually harder, you know? If your young man is a bass, cool, follow the bass. If your singer needs to sing tenor, follow the tenor. Either way, the other part is covered.

Can the kids record themselves singing along and upload that?

No. The site isn’t designed for that, and that’s a discussion probably worthy of another post. 😀 I understand why folks want that, I do. And while it’s not possible within the site, they certainly could record something in Garageband, or a similar application and email it along to you, or upload to your online classroom.

What software did you use to make these deep dives?

I used Musescore to create the music files, and Screenflow for video editing. I used Keynote on my mac to create the presentation files for the lessons. If there was interest, I’d be willing to write up how I did it, or maybe make a video tutorial. Let me know!

That’s it. I’ll finish up the other three soon. I really hope these are useful. If you have any questions or comments, just drop in the comments below.

2 Comments to “Introducing Choral Deep Dives: My Top Secret Quarantine Project”

  1. This is brilliant Erin Thank you! My kids wont be up for chorale deep dives yet! but maybe one day.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. If you think of anything else that might be helpful, be sure and let me know!

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