Oriel's Choir Goes Digital

  • Oriel College Choir wall of faces in digital performance
19 May, 2020

With lockdown keeping the Oriel College Choir apart this term, they have embraced the world of online performance via the Chapel YouTube channel. You can see and listen to their performances here, and video editor Francis Judd also gives some background explaining how they are made.

Since the lockdown began in March, Oriel Chapel has been transitioning from the physical to the virtual. The Chapel now has its own YouTube channel on which you can find weekly sermons and now the first two (with more to be added) virtual performances by the Oriel College Chapel Choir (OCCC). The first recording was of Wood's Oculi Omnium and the most recent is Haydn's Insanae et vanae curae. Both videos were produced by Francis Judd, and he explains a bit more about the complexities involved in pulling together so many individually recorded pieces of audio and video.

Oriel's Choir sing Joseph Haydn's Insanae et vanae curae (below) and you can view more on the Oriel Chapel YouTube channel

The Oriel College Chapel Choir Video Production Process - Francis Judd

Once a piece has been selected for us to work on during the week as a 'virtual choir', the first thing to do is record a reference. This is either a rehearsal reduction of the parts or simply the final accompaniment track. It is also usually helpful to have a corresponding video of the conductor as most of us singers are used to watching them for cues. It is all about providing as much useful information as possible to the singers to assist with the synchronisation of the different parts. With this footage of the conductor and accompaniment as well as a digital copy of the score, I produce part-specific scrolling-score sing-along videos with the conductor onscreen. There are usually four different parts (SATB) but for some pieces there are further splits between Choir 1 (Dec) and Choir 2 (Can). I produce five videos, one for each part and one with all parts together. I send these out for members of the Choir to use when recording themselves performing their part at home. These videos ensure that the singers have the two main things they need to record their vocals: an accompaniment (to provide a reference key) and a conductor to set the tempo and guide them through the piece.

Once the Choir members have all recorded and sent their videos back to me (not necessarily a simple process), I extract the audio from the video files. I import the audio into a digital audio workstation (DAW), special software used for recording, editing and producing audio files, into which I’ve already set the tempo to follow the accompaniment recording. Having the DAW tempo match the performance makes the synchronisation process much easier. I then normalise all the audio tracks and synchronise them to the accompaniment. The next step is to change the volume of each part, which is important in order to achieve a balanced choir sound. The individual voices are grouped into Dec and Can, even if singing the same part, which are then panned left/right to varying degrees. Panning changes the contribution from each track to the left or right speakers, thus adding a spatial dimension to the soundscape. I usually set the pan setting to correspond to people’s positions on the screen in the video. Once ready, the audio mix is exported from the DAW and imported into a video editing software. The videos are synchronised to the audio mix and then arranged together on the screen. I trim the start and end points to make scattered fade-in and fade-out sequences and then wait 8 hours for video to export before putting it up on YouTube.

The footage from the Choir for producing the past two videos - Wood’s Oculi Omnium and Haydn’s Insanae et vanae curae - was (mostly) sent to me by the Friday evening and I started exporting the videos late on the Saturday evening, so it isn't a quick process. But we have been happy with the end result, and hope that other College members enjoy listening to it too.