If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is flexibility. Musicians have had to adapt to the “new normal,” just like everyone else. We have had to deploy technologies such as Zoom and video editing software to continue making music. In fact, the music video projects have been some of the best things to come out of this difficult time.
In March, I went from rehearsing with a church choir and teaching flute students in-person to having to do everything remotely. On Sunday,
I was singing with the choir in church and meeting with flute students on Monday. By Friday, everything had moved online. It was a cosmic shift. And I have written about the technology, struggles, victories, and science in other blog posts.
My first music video project was with my beloved choir at North Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Lewis Center (and virtually everywhere.) I wanted to do a project that would be inclusive of the skill level of all of our singers, even the kids, but would also show off our musical talent.
I chose the piece “Hope” by Mark Burrows with words from Emily Dickinson and Anna Blake Mazquida.
“Hope” was a piece that the NUUC choir has performed in the past, and I love the words and the music. Pro tip: choose a piece that you like a lot because you will have to listen to it hundreds of times during the editing process.
I began by asking our pianos Wade Jones to record a guide track of the piano part only. This guide track became the thing that I built the rest of the project around.
The next step was to work on a Google Drive for the participants. I created a instruction sheet with links to the Google Drive, audio files, and detailed information on practicing, recording, and submitting videos. This part of the project was time consuming. I estimate that it took about 10 hours to complete all of the work to get the project ready for the singers.
I edited the audio and video files separately, which gave me control over each track. There are good tutorials on YouTube for how to do the audio editing on GarageBand, which is the program that I used. One tip that was particularly helpful: have all of the singers clap at the same time during the intro. This cue saved a lot of time when lining up the audio and video tracks.
For video editing, I used Adobe Premiere Pro. Although I had used iMovie in the past for video editing, iMovie not have a way to layer all 24 videos. Premiere Pro was more difficult to learn at first but has virtually limitless possibilities for music video editing. The monthly subscription allows me to cancel whenever I am no longer in need of the software.
Thanks to the hard work of Wade Jones, our pianist, and the many talented singers, the “Hope” Virtual Choir project was completed on May 15, 2020.
For the second project, I wanted to involve the instrumentalists at North UU. Our congregation is fortunate to have many talented musicians who share their gifts during the weekly worship services. Additionally, our congregation supports a Recorder Ensemble and Youth Orchestra. I wondered what it would be like to create a music sandbox for them to explore.
The Welsh tune “Hyfrydol” is included in the UU hymnal Singing the Journey as hymn #1064 “Blue Boat Home.” It is a favorite among our congregants, and we sing it often during worship services. The tune is simple but catchy. I often hear my family singing it when they think no one is listening. 😄
However, there was a problem with the sheet music. The hymn as it is written in “Singing the Journey” is in the key of E-major. This is a great key for string players and guitarists, but terrible for beginner wind players. Brass and woodwind players are more comfortable playing in flat keys
To solve the key signature problem, I enlisted the help of our wonderful pianist Wade Jones. Could we do two verses in E-flat Major, then modulate to the key of E-Major? Wade came up with an elegant solution that blended the two keys seamlessly. The wind and brass players would play for the first part of the song and the string players would play the second half. A piano interlude, modulating up one half step, would glue the two parts together.
Musicians were given the melody in sheet music and guide recordings but were free to submit harmony or counter-melody parts. Some musicians recorded multiple videos. The players ranged in age from 6 to “Golden Buckeye.” Videos were received from Massachusetts, Ohio, and Oregon. We used musicians of all skill levels – from absolute beginner to professional.
I enjoyed the challenge of fitting together the unusual instruments. It’s not common for an ensemble to contain ukulele and euphonium and oboe and banjo. My favorite part of the video? Our youngest player and his one chord in the middle of the video. I was also delighted by the banjo and mandolin players and the texture they added to the music.
The video was shown for the first time during NUUC’s worship service on Sunday, September 6, 2020, and released publicly on YouTube later that day.
The virtual orchestra format created unique opportunities that may not have been possible in a live performance. Because each player had time to record and re-record their parts, they could submit their best performance. Our orchestra could be as big and diverse as we wanted because we did not have space constraints. Our church is small and there is limited room for live performances. Now, we have a permanent record of the performance and can share the music freely through the internet.
It has always been my mission to take NUUC’s music ministry outside the walls of the church. During the pandemic, we have been called to think outside the box since none of us can be inside the church. Our music making is by necessity outside of the church and our message has to be spread through social media. As of this writing, we are approaching 700 views on YouTube. It is my sincere hope that people will be touched by this music and will find comfort in this difficult time.
I have been working on other video projects: one for Hartzler Pianos and another for a real estate investment company. Though they aren’t strictly music videos, they have challenged my video editing abilities.
In a few weeks, I will be completing a project for a friend. Her family has a tradition of singing silly songs for family gatherings. Because they cannot be together at an upcoming wedding, I am helping them with a music video, which will be shown at the reception.
For North UU, we are starting a new virtual choir project using a song from the Justice Choir Songbook. I am also planning to do another virtual orchestra project for Christmas.
My grandmother said, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” Would I have learned video editing this summer if not for COVID-19? Not likely. Teaching myself Premiere Pro was not on my bucket list. Nonetheless, I have enjoyed the challenge and have picked up some useful skills. As a musician, I have always had to adapt to thrive. While in-person music is difficult, digital technologies have enabled us to still perform and share our art.