A virtual choir concert with interactive program notes
With trips and concerts cancelled, I've been sitting around the house trying to figure out how I can keep my students involved in choral music when we can't sing together. We're all probably taking deep dives into the YouTube black hole anyway, so why not make it educational?
I've been toying with the idea of creating some sort of virtual concert experience for awhile now (I thought it might be a fun sub assignment, or just something for a change of pace). You can see my YouTube playlist above for the entire concert. I was going for 30-45 minutes of music, and ended up with the 7 songs you see above. I saved everything into this playlist that I can share with my students. Using the playlist function on YouTube allows you to determine the concert order, and have everything play back to back...similar to how you would want a real-life concert to flow.
Considerations for Programming a Virtual Concert
1. Have a time frame in mind.
I'm programming this for middle school students. Our own performances are usually less than an hour, so I don't want to overwhelm them with this giant playlist they HAVE to listen to. Like I said earlier, I aimed for between 30-45 minutes of music, also keeping our current school workload requirements in mind (they told us 2 assignments/week lasting around 30-ish minutes).
2. Keep it interesting.
I love Eric Whitacre ( I even chose one of his virtual choirs for my playlist)....but I don't think I would program only Eric Whitacre pieces for this scenario. Think like you would when programming your own concerts. You need variety: pieces in different languages, styles, tempos, etc. Try to keep your intended audience on their toes!
3. What can your choir learn from this virtual concert?
We rarely have time to delve this deep in our classes. But with this interactive option, why not link to things that are related to the song that you think your students might find interesting? In my program notes below, I included several additional links under almost every piece. Take Sound the Trumpet for example. What a great opportunity to share information on unique aspects of Baroque period music like basso continuo, and share information on period instruments, and voice types.
4. Dream big.
Consider including a mix of genres that might not normally work together in a traditional setting. I added Circle of Life from the opening of The Lion King to the end of my concert, because how often have our students seen something as amazing as those puppets?
5. Pick music that gives you the feels.
If you don't have a reaction watching/listening to each performance, they won't either. Is there something special about the piece that makes it that much more interesting? Share that with your group in the program notes.
Interactive Program Notes
This is what makes this activity to fun (in my opinion). Everyone will get a copy of the program notes with some tidbits right on the page, but there are also links throughout that you have the option of clicking that will take you to additional websites or videos if you want to learn more about something in depth. Don't worry, pdf and word versions of this program are available for you at the end of the post!
Experience it yourself first!
Before sharing this with your own students, try out the interactive virtual concert experience below! I've included all of the program notes right here, as well as the additional videos and links. I've tried to source kid-friendly info...so no cursing, inappropriate content, etc.
Chris Martin, .arr. George Chung
Kokopelli and Oran Choirs
Scott Leithead, Conductor
Fix You, a hit song originally performed by the band Coldplay, was written by the group’s lead singer Chris Martin. Chris Martin wrote the lyrics to this song for his wife at the time, Gwyneth Paltrow, who was dealing with the recent death of her father.
To hear the original song, check out the video below:
Christopher Tin, arranged by André van der Merwe
Stellenbosch University Choir
André van der Merwe, Conductor
(Sorry, I didn't include the translation here that I have on the document because of weird website formatting issues)
The original arrangement of Baba Yetu, a Swahili setting of the Lord’s Prayer by Christopher Tin, was composed as the theme song for the video game Civilization IV. When the Soweto Gospel Choir released their performance of this piece, it became the first video game theme song to be nominated for and win a Grammy award.
Sound the Trumpet
from Come Ye Sons of Art
Damien Guillon and Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian, Countertenors
with Le Banquet Céleste
Written in 1694, Sound the Trumpet is a part of a larger work, written as an ode for Queen Mary’s birthday. Though since scored for choirs, Purcell originally wrote this piece to be sung by countertenors (shown in this video) who sing in imitation of a trumpet. In this video, you’ll notice that the singers are accompanied by a Harpsichord, and a Cello. To find out more about these unique voices and instruments, visit the links below:
What is a countertenor? (Kid-friendly version, in case you don't want to discuss what a castrati is) https://www.britannica.com/art/countertenor
What is a Harpsichord?
Want to hear more Cello?
More about figured bass/basso continuo
Virtual Choir 3
The Virtual Choir is a global phenomenon, creating a user-generated choir that brings together singers from around the world and their love of music in a new way through the use of technology.
Singers record and upload their videos from locations all over the world. Each one of the videos is then synchronized and combined into one single performance to create the Virtual Choir.
It began in 2009 as a simple experiment in social media when one young woman – a fan of Eric’s music – recorded a video of herself singing “Sleep” and shared it on YouTube. Moved by the video, Eric responded by sending a call out to his online fans to purchase Polyphony’s recording, record themselves singing along to it, and upload the result. Eric was so impressed by the result that he decided to push the concept to the next level by recording himself conducting ‘Lux Aurumque’, asking Virtual Choir members to sing along to that and the first Virtual Choir was created. The VC has grown from 185 singers in VC1 to more than 8,000 singers, aged 4-87, from 120 countries in VC5. (https://ericwhitacre.com/the-virtual-choir/about, accessed 3 April, 2020).
To see the other Eric Whitacre virtual choir videos, visit: https://ericwhitacre.com/the-virtual-choir/about and click on the menu in the top left hand corner. This will open up to a pull down where you can select which virtual choir you would like to watch.
To learn more about composer Eric Whitacre and his music, visit: https://ericwhitacre.com/biography
Somebody to Love
Freddie Mercury/arr. Vince Peterson
Queen, one of the world’s best-selling recording artists, is a British rock band that formed in the 1970’s. They are famous for hit songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites the Dust, We Will Rock You, and We are the Champions.
To learn more about the band, visit: http://www.queenonline.com/queen
Listen to the original by Queen here (and also enjoy the awesome late 70’s hair):
Founded in San Francisco in 1978, Chanticleer is known around the world as “an orchestra of voices” for the seamless blend of its twelve male voices ranging from countertenor to bass and its original interpretations of vocal literature, from Renaissance to jazz, and from gospel to venturesome new music.
(https://www.chanticleer.org/#about-chanticleer, accessed 3 April, 2020)
To learn more about Chanticleer, visit: https://www.chanticleer.org/mission-and-history
Eastern Michigan University Choir
Jake Runestad, Conductor
Some compositions are written with the intention of prompting protest, encouraging social discourse, or shedding light on what some might consider a “taboo” subject.
In 2013, suicide took the lives of 41,149 people in the USA alone. Depression affects about 20 million people in the USA, 350 million worldwide. Composer Jake Runestad wrote “Please Stay” as an anthem for hope- an attempt to destigmatize mental illness and challenge all of us to support those who are battling depression and thoughts of suicide. The words are adapted from tweets using #IKeptLiving, a platform for individuals to share why they chose life. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17Ywn3ImcYE, accessed March 27, 2020).
To listen to more of Jake Runestad’s music, visit his YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/JakeRunestad
Circle of Life
The Cast of Disney’s The Lion King
A lively stage adaptation of the Academy Award-winning 1994 Disney film, The Lion King is the story of a young lion prince living in the flourishing African Pride Lands. When an unthinkable tragedy, orchestrated by Simba’s wicked uncle, Scar, takes his father’s life, Simba flees the Pride Lands, leaving his loss and the life he knew behind. Eventually companioned by two hilarious and unlikely friends, Simba starts anew. But when weight of responsibility and a desperate plea from the now ravaged Pride Lands come to find the adult prince, Simba must take on a formidable enemy, and fulfill his destiny to be king. (https://www.broadway.com/shows/the-lion-king/, accessed 3 April, 2020)
To learn more about the masks and puppets:
Or, if you really want to nerd out about the puppets:
How I'm asking my students to enjoy the Virtual Concert
I'm going to post the pdf of the concert program on my Google Classroom for my kids to watch next week. I'm going to expect them to:
1. Open the document, and click on the first hyperlink at the top of the page. That will open up the YouTube playlist.
2. Watch the videos included on the playlist, and have the program notes open in a separate tab.
3. Encourage students to explore the additional links if they would like. Also, encourage them to invite another family member to watch with them!
4. Write something short to tell me their thoughts about what they listened to. It'll be easy, quick, and probably some sort of google form.