April 13, 2020

COVID-19 and the virtual choir

COVID-19 and the virtual choir

From the safety of my apartment here in Portland, OR, I have been watching how choir members and choir directors around the world have started to deal with isolation. It seemed to me, based on my years of working in singing groups, that being in the same space was essential to choral singing. There are a couple of great Ted Talks out there that support the notion that singing in choir actually gets our hearts to beat in time, and makes real changes to our brains. Here is one from Melbourne, Australia.

But it is more than that. Choirs are communities. We sing together, not only to make a beautiful noise, but also to meet some of our needs for friendship, for conversation around a common mission, and even to express a common faith. People who work with me know that I will break into song for almost any reason, but that’s just me. Arreon Harley talks about how choirs are a safe place where we can sing — and in our world, that is not a common thing.

How to sing virtually

Watching parish choirs work out ways to make music and build community has been an amazing testament to our love of choral singing, to its essential place in our liturgy and our life of faith. Here are a few examples chosen at random from around the web.

Guy Bunce, a British choir director, created a video on how to set up a virtual choir using Zoom. What’s great about this tutorial is that it takes its time and goes step by step through the process — perfect for anyone without previous knowledge of computers.

Many choirs have done recordings in the past, and so reposting some of those can be a great way to remind choir members and parishes at large of past successes. Another thing that can be done is that people can use this time to improve their directing skills by watching webinars — like this one done by our own Angela Westhoff-Johnson.

So once you’ve had your choir rehearsal virtually, you might want to post a final version of what you’ve done, either using the Zoom technology or the popular virtual choir technology. Here’s an overview of the process.

And here are some ideas for editing a virtual choir. If you have someone in your parish who is especially good with computers, she or he might be looking for something interesting to do — get in touch!

The results

This video was recorded well before the crisis — more than 10 years before! Here’s one of the original virtual choirs, singing Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Arumque.” Another of the most famous virtual choirs is the Carmelite’s celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Birth of St. Teresa of Avila.

Communities large and small have also tried their hand at this, with schools leading the way. Here are some more great examples, from the United States, Austria and Italy.

With all that is going on, keeping choirs together, even digitally, is an essential part of the ministry of the Church and the work of pastoral musicians everywhere. My prayer for you is that, whether as a singer or a leader, you will find ways to stay in community and to keep on praising God in song. And please send us some of your recordings. We’d love to post some examples of OCP songs being sung by virtual groups. It will help us all get through this together.

I would be also glad to hear/see what you are doing in your parishes. Feel free to contact me at

Dr. Glenn CJ Byer
Dr. Glenn CJ Byer

Dr. Glenn CJ Byer has written widely on the liturgy, including articles on the meaning of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, marriage preparation, the renovation of churches and the Anointing of the Sick. He also speaks widely on the role of lay ministers in the Mass.