Pre-recorded On-Line Worship
Making online services during closure of the Cathedral for musicians
The Cathedral Choir during lockdown
From March 2020 until the end of June 2021, an adult and junior on-line choir provided all of the sung music in the on-line Cathedral services available from this website prior to 30 July 2023.
During this period of closure of the Cathedral and its halls, when the Cathedral and Junior Choirs could not meet, members of both choirs provided music to be added to the weekly on-line service. The Junior choir provided their own piece, and the Adult Choir provided the backing to the hymns, an introit, an anthem and the Choral Amen. Occasionally both choirs sang "together'.
Contrary to some thoughts, these were not old recordings from previous services, but were created fresh and new every week, from a total of around 25+ singers, young and not so young, in both choirs, including a singer from the Borders and one ex-chorister from 12,000 miles away in New Zealand! Whilst in the past, the live service was recorded each week to be provided on CD if requested (please click HERE if you would be interested in that) the choir was recorded only by a single microphone on the lectern used for the Bible readings. Needless to say this was far from ideal for the introit, nor did it give a balanced sound to the choir for the hymns or anthems, making such recordings unacceptable for use in on-line services. As such, it was decided to experiment with the concept of creating choirs from singers in, and friends of, the Cathedral Choir who may be interested and using technology to bring all the voices together.
How was it made?
Scottish law and Church of Scotland rules at the time were such that the choir members could not physically meet, nor sing in the Cathedral, so every piece of music was actually created from multiple single recordings of each singer singing only their part in their own home. Kevin, the Director of Music, recorded an accompaniment - which may or may not have been used in the final service. (The unaccompanied - or a capella - singing you hear has actually been recorded against a backing track to keep us together, which was then removed at the end.) This resulted in 25+ individual recording files for each musical item - around 120 music files per week.
The singers listened to the accompaniment on their headphones, and simultaneously recorded only their voice which they then provided for the service to the virtual choir administrator - there was an Administrator for the Adult choir and one for the Junior choir.
The choir administrators collated all the voices into the appropriate voice part - soprano, alto, tenor and bass (and one for the Junior Choir) - and aligned the voices with the accompaniment, and each other. Background noise was eliminated as much as possible at this stage. The voices were "normalised" to be at a similar volume, timed to be with each other and the accompaniment, and then "blended" to try and balance the different recordings sent in. Then the Cathedral and Junior Choir online choir is built, and again blended to provide a good, balanced mix. At this stage some technical tricks are applied - the voices are given a stereo location so spatially it sounds like a real choir standing in front of you (try listening on headphones to clearly get the effect). Finally, as every voice was recorded in their own house and room, and not in the Cathedral, we provided a echo - reverberance - to the choir which has the effect of making it sound like it is in the Cathedral.
Some electronic trickery was applied for some pieces - for example, the long sustained "drone" notes in Tavener's 'Song for Athene' were actually the recordings of a couple of bars repeated over and over! Occasionally voices were recorded twice to add texture to some pieces.
The purpose of these two choirs was not to get a concert-perfect version of the pieces - even live singing has flaws - but to enable the Cathedral choirs to make realistic, live-sounding, quality music to the glory of God, and music which is still fitting and used within the on-line service and which continues to be heard across the globe. We hope you find pleasure and enjoyment in hearing our offerings in the on-line services which can be heard HERE.
The audio files - virtual choir (278 separate sung items) and organ - were produced using the free, open source program Audacity (https://www.audacityteam.org/). The spoken work (welcome, readings, prayers, sermon and benediction) was recorded each Friday night with the top of the range (at the time) Apple iPhone. Music modules drew on over 1,400 still photos to create the images for the start and end of the service, and the anthem. PowerPoint was used for the hymn lyrics. The service was created in "modules" using iMovie on an Apple MacBook Pro - free with the MacBook - which created titles, and made the still images "fly" like they were a video. Each service then consisted of drawing together the series of modules (video files) in the correct order to compose the service, create the YouTube file and upload the file to YouTube, making it avalable from 10.15am on the Sunday morning.
How can I find out more?
Should you wish to know more about the choirs, please contact Kevin by clicking HERE. If you wish to discuss the technical aspects of the on-line choir in more detail, please click HERE to talk to the Cathedral's IT Administrator.