Zooming Your Way to Excellence

By Erica Phare-Bergh  |  Artistic Director  |  Voices in Motion

While it’s true that COVID has been really tough on choirs, there are some advantages to online singing that we can’t always get during in-person rehearsals. Uniform vowels, self-evaluation, facial expression, and better diction are all benefits we can experience because of this new Zoom choir world that we live in.

Uniform vowels are a cornerstone for a good choral sound. It’s what makes a choir sound like a choir and not just a bunch of individuals singing the same song. When people are in a Zoom rehearsal, it’s like looking in a mirror. They can watch themselves and compare their vowel shape with the conductor’s and everyone else in the choir as well – something that we try to achieve at in-person rehearsals but can’t unless there is a mirror in the room. I’ve noticed that choristers are using taller vowels rather than spread vowels – when it’s brought to their attention – and can fix that really quickly because they see what the vowel should look like.

Self-evaluation is taking place more readily. Because conductors can’t hear their singers on Zoom (and I’m not the type of conductor that asks its more senior choristers to unmute and sing a solo for everyone…), the choristers themselves are taking more responsibility for their music and how well they know it. They have to think about which interval, bar or phrase they need extra help with, how their tuning is and how well they know their music. There are no supports when you’re in your own living room singing – the alto section is non-existent – so singers have to become their own conductor.

Facial expression, like uniform vowel formation, is a product of being able to see yourself on Zoom and have immediate feedback: Do I have a “lift” in my eyes and cheeks (not just to look lovely and but to open up the necessary resonators when singing)? What emotion am I conveying when I sing (joy or terror)? Do I look engaged in the music (in order to communicate the text)? Is my body “alive” and feeling the music internally (in order to support the breath that I need to sing through the phrase)? All these things we can see for ourselves right away, as if in a mirror.

Better diction falls under the same category as uniform vowels and facial expression. Choristers can see if they are enunciating their text clearly or not. Being able to compare their face and diction with others on the screen is really helpful.

The challenge comes with a virtual choral video. Choristers are on their own when recording a video – they don’t have that group feedback and can’t compare their faces, vowels and diction with others on the screen. Self-evaluation really has to kick in. Setting aside the fact that we all tend to be critical of our own voice (most people don’t like hearing their own voice recorded, and that includes famous opera singers), we still need to listen to our intonation, engage our faces and bodies and sing for an audience that isn’t there right now – but will be.