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U of Regina Choir shares light and hope in pandemic-inspired virtual performance

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: May 20, 2020 4:00 p.m.

UR Virtual Choir 1 brings together people of all ages and walks of life to share art and beauty with the world.
UR Virtual Choir 1 brings together people of all ages and walks of life to share art and beauty with the world. Photo: Screenshot from YouTube

Necessity truly is the mother of invention as borne out by the University of Regina Choir’s first virtual performance of Pierre Passereau’s “Il est bel et bon” on May 17. The piece is part of an entire program of music that the U of R Concert Choir and the U of R Chamber Singers were preparing to perform as part of an end-of-semester concert until the University moved all classes to a remote learning format in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Singing together in a choral setting allows people of all ages and walks of life to unite in language and expression to bring art and beauty to the world.

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Dr. Melissa Morgan partners with Alex Clarke to produce U of R’s first-ever virtual choir performance.
Credit: Dr. Ian Chang

“The art form calls on the singers to engage every part of their beings towards the creation of harmonious melodies that can only be captured in a single moment of time,” says Dr. Melissa Morgan, Assistant Professor within the U of R’s Faculty of Media, Art & Performance, Department of Music, Choral Studies. “As the realities of COVID-19 were revealed, our choir began to grieve the loss of community and the loss of singing.”

But from loss and heartbreak, creativity and innovation can grow.

The pandemic has seen music educators around the world trying to come up with ways to keep the choir community alive. The virtual choir phenomena that is exploding all over the world is one way to create community, but it is also a very difficult thing to do. Hours of work are required to fuse audio and video together. So, when Alex Clarke, long-standing member of the University of Regina Chamber Singers and lab instructor in the Department of Computer Science, suggested to Morgan that they try to put a virtual choir together and offered up his services to help make it happen, the project was given the green light.

“It was a strange and sometimes uncomfortable experience for some of the singers – making a video, following music over headphones, and hearing their voice all on its own – but still they persevered,” says Alex. “I’ve been thrilled to see my fellow singers’ excitement as they share this performance with friends and family on social media, and am happy to see the positive responses in return. Performer or not, virtual is not the same as being in the same room with others, but wonderfully the connection is still very real.”

The virtual setting, Morgan knew, meant that each singer has to be brave enough to sing solo and record themselves into a video. The individual videos are then sent to an editor and the editor, along with the choral conductor, weave together the mix of voices and video to produce the concert.

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Alex Clarke contributed both his passion for singing and technology expertise to the virtual choir
Credit: Alex Clarke

As was quickly discovered, this process is not without challenges. When the call went out to the singers, Morgan and Clarke soon found that not all singers had access to electronic devices with some students lacking the amount of WiFi bandwidth needed to create their individual performance. Additionally, some students, feeling overwhelmed with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, were having difficulty finding it within themselves to perform, never mind battle with technology. So, conductor and editor decided to draw upon the resources of former singers and alumni of the choirs for support. Additionally, they invited future singers – grade 12 students planning to study in the U of R’s music department this Fall to join in the choral project.

The response was amazing and the resulting 15-member virtual choir, dubbed the “UR Virtual Choir,” is a testament to the power of the human spirit. As the Chamber Singers had been preparing “Il est bel et bon” for their April 5 concert, the group decided to move forward with the piece’s light, fun, and uplifting madrigal style for their virtual performance. It was the perfect choice to bring hope and inspiration to the community in and around Regina, as well as to viewers the world over.

“Music truly is a gift and I am so grateful to be a part of such a fantastic community at the University of Regina – bringing light during these times of darkness,” says Morgan.

Given audience response, plans for the University’s Virtual Choir 2 are underway with details forthcoming.

Check out #UofReginaCares for more stories about U of R students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are using their ingenuity, resolve, and hearts to care for our community during these challenging times.