Creative Ingenuity Gives Choral Students Collective Voice
In a typical school year at Rutgers Prep, the months of April and May present opportunities for our students in the performing arts to showcase their talents in a series of concerts and gatherings; however, for every school in every state, it goes without saying that this has not been a typical school year. Our dedicated faculty have been demonstrating their commitment to their students and the passions that make a Rutgers Prep education truly inspired, and when the prospect of canceling the Spring Choral Concert at Voorhees Chapel became a reality, Dr. Colin Britt, Choir Director at Rutgers Prep, made other arrangements to ensure that his students’ talents wouldn’t go unrecognized.
"I think I can speak for most if not all choral directors out there when I say that this has been a really painful time for all of us,” said Britt. "We devote our lives to communal singing, and in times of suffering, sadness, or grief, our instinct is to come together and make music - the one thing we're not able to do right now. So when it became clear that this quarantine was going to last through the spring, I knew I had to find other ways that our students could still make music together. And especially given the outstanding senior class graduating this year, I wanted to create something that would recognize and pay tribute to their outstanding work.”
Dr. Britt had seen other “virtual choir” videos on the internet before, but had never made one himself. “This has been a learning process from day one,” he said. Since it’s impossible to sing together in real time over Zoom or Google Hangouts (video latency prevents singers from hearing one another in real-time while performing), all videos have to be pre-recorded separately and then stitched together in a video editing program.
"This very detailed process means that a 3-5 minute song can take anywhere from 8-20 hours, from recording the first scratch track until the final video is produced,” said Britt. "It feels a lot more like producing a studio album than preparing for a concert - but if it's the only way I can make choral music with my students, it's worth every minute."
In order to ensure that all of the singers are on beat and in tune, Britt first creates a video of himself conducting over an audio “scratch” track that he plays on piano. For some of the more complex pieces, he layers each part individually so that he can isolate specific parts for singers who want to hear their melody line more clearly. After he sends this conductor video to the singers, they record themselves singing along, wearing headphones so that only the audio they capture consists of their own voices. Then, it’s time to edit. He places each video into the editing software, lining them up manually so that the timing is in-sync. “This is the most tedious - and most important - part,” notes Britt. He then arranges the videos into a mosaic, so each singer’s face is visible in the frame, balances the choir, adds colorization, highlights the soloists, and uses separate audio editing software to add reverb and EQ the mix so it sounds more like a concert hall, rather than someone’s bedroom or back porch. The final step is adding the audio track back to the video, and exporting the final video.
We are proud to display the incredible efforts of Dr. Britt and his students in the videos below. Enjoy!
"Run to you," by Pentatonix, performed by the Madrigal Singers
"Lovely," by Billie Eilish, performed by Women's Vocal Chamber Ensemble
"Falling Slowly," from the musical "Once," performed by Concert Choir with special guests Lyssandra Stephenson (Music Department Chair), and Christina Kratzman (Upper School Spanish Teacher)
- Remote Learning