Hints and Tips for Virtual Choirs!

Our Administrator, Kate Shipway, explains how choirs can keep making music virtually...

Aren’t these weird times we’re living in? As a choral director, I am used to being out nearly every night leading choir rehearsals. I’m very lucky that I get to make a living out of doing something I love and being part of so much joyous music-making.

I am now regularly asked how we can do normal rehearsals, but online. And the short answer is, we can’t. At least not in the way we are used to rehearsing. Online platforms for conferences and video calls are limited by the varying speeds of internet everyone has, so trying to sing or play altogether results in a very noisy mess…

Online Meeting Platforms

The sessions I'm leading with the six choirs I work with are all being done by Zoom and are developing each week. At the moment we are only doing forty minute sessions due to the time limitations of the free version of Zoom. It may be that I decide to upgrade to the paid option, but for now, 40 minutes seems to be enough. Next week one group is going to do a 40 minute session dedicated to warming up and learning new repertoire followed by another session of a more social nature.

My community choirs are having weekly sessions mostly dedicated to singing the repertoire we already know, with some social time built in as well. For the singing bits, everyone except me is muted and I use rehearsal tracks or get my long suffering partner to join in and add some harmony.

I’ve been keeping my eye out for other platforms too. I’ve had a go at Houseparty and although it isn’t ideal for any kind of group rehearsal, it is fab for meeting up with fellow choir members for a chat (drink in hand optional!) What’s great about it is that it’s comprised of smaller groups that individuals can dip in and out of, just like at a party where you’d mingle and move around.

There has been a rush from many musical groups and individuals to find the perfect new normal. And others have already written off many online activities as not as good as the real thing. For me, and many of my choir members, meeting together online isn’t about making amazing music together but about catching up and looking out for each other. I’m sure many of you have already found ways to get some kind of choral music making fix. But in case you are still looking for ideas of things you can get involved with, or ways your groups can work together, I’ve been gathering quite a few…

Blog Posts

Liz Garnett (musicologist, arranger, ABCD choral conducting tutor, musical director) has done some great blog posts about rehearsing remotely. These are based on barbershop chorus rehearsals but the principles can be applied to any kind of rehearsing. (Link to the next one in the series at the bottom of each post):


In his blog, Michael Betteridge(composer, musical director) comments on how the online rehearsals with his choir The Sunday Boys have gone, what worked and what didn’t work so well. I really liked his honesty:


Virtual Choirs

Taking part in a virtual choir is reasonably easy to do, even if you aren’t the most tech savvy person. The instructions should be clear and simple to follow for people who are going to sing and record their part. And you don’t always have to upload a video as well as the sound. Try looking at the following options:

Leading or organising a virtual choir is a lot more work. I am about to embark on putting together a virtual choir performance for Cheshire A Cappella. We want to do this in memory of one of our members, Helen who died two years ago. We were due to be singing a new arrangement for her at a (now cancelled) music festival so this feels like a good project for us to work on instead. I am looking forward to getting to grips with the technology, although I’m also a little apprehensive as my technological skills are limited and this will involve a lot of trial and error! I have joined a group on Facebook called Virtual Music Creators’ Forum. For anyone who is thinking about running their own project, but not sure where to start, this is becoming an invaluable resource with contributions from around the world.

Other Music Output

The internet is currently buzzing with musical output from all kinds of musicians, and this is certainly the case in Sheffield. There is a section on the Classical Sheffield website dedicated to digital concerts, you can email Alex to add yours to the page. And don’t forget to check out the social media pages of your favourite artists and groups to see what they are up to. Many may well be doing concerts or sessions from their homes. Here’s a few other things that have caught my eye…

Smiley Tunes: search for @smileytuneschoirs on Facebook.

Helen’s enthusiasm and joy of singing is infectious. She is doing regular Facebook live sessions with different sessions for adults and children which can also be watched back at a later time.

Beatles-a-Day with Mo and Amelia: search for @Beatlesaday on Facebook.

Yes, I know it’s not classical music but, well, isn’t the fact that they’re sharing Beatles songs enough?!

Voces8: https://voces8.foundation/events

Daily sessions at 2pm which can be accessed live via Facebook or Youtube or watched back via the website. Sessions are a variety of music making, Q&As, interviews and performances.

Singing In… at Home: https://www.patreon.com/singingin

Members of my own Singing In… choirs who want a bit more than their free Zoom sessions can become a patron and get new songs (including sheet music, full mix and individual part tracks) or video tutorials/sessions weekly. This is also open to anyone else who wants to join, anywhere in the world!

The above isn’t a definitive list of course. There is so much more that could go in here. If you have any questions or ideas of other things to add, let me know and I’ll definitely add them to my list!

Kate is an experienced choral director, workshop leader and vocal coach. She is Musical Director of Romulus Singers, Cheshire A Cappella and Vocal Expressions. She has her own business, Singing In… which includes community choirs in Oughtibridge, Stocksbridge and Bamford, singing holidays and a new ukulele group. She also works part time for Opera North in the education delivery team. She is the volunteer administrator for Classical Sheffield.

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