Overcoming Isolation: Our Virtual Chancel Choir – by Paul Currie

Liturgy can be lost, in isolation . . .
or it can be found, in intentionality.

Our Sunday liturgy at Edith Rankin Memorial United Church in Kingston has always literally been the “Work of the People,” and in this Covid-19  world, the people must work to innovate. We have seen some communities  of faith move directly to live streaming worship. That is a good way  to keep things going, but it may miss the mark when it comes to the feeling of sitting side by side in our pews – doing the work of the people.
Serving as a choir member, and being a pensioned pastor, I was glad to see our worship planning team, lead by the Rev. Dr. Bill Smith and the Rev. Joe Ramsay, move to regular online interactive worship using RingCentral Meetings (powered by Zoom). I quickly volunteered a time for us  to continue weekly Choir Practice using the same platform. We tried singing online, but the cacophony of multiple mikes open, crashing and “Zooming” together was hard to take. 

Still, we wanted to continue the weekly music ministry. We had seen the big choirs and orchestras making music over the internet – multiple boxes of singing heads or instruments in action. As a bit of techie too, I knew that I had recording and video software to work on meshing individual voices, but it just looked rather overwhelming.

One of our choir members suggested SoundTrap.com. This cloud based app returns liturgy to the people in a big way. Downloaded to our smartphone, PC or Mac computer, we listen to the piano accompaniment recorded by our music director Kim Barney and just sing along through our device’s microphone. First time for me meant singing my bass line four or five times to get in synch, but then it became a lot of fun. The learning curve is softened because it is a completely collaborative process. (For instance, we learned that the best PC platform to use was Chrome, not Edge.)

Each musician involved is invited to join the project. They open the SoundTrap Studio on their device, and enter their part as one track on a many layered musical file. Once all tracks are recorded, their sounds are manually or automatically blended with volume, tone, and resonance controls. Parts can even be cut and pasted, duplicated, or shifted.

SoundTrap offers a robust free online service, and adds more bells and whistles for a small monthly fee. Even those are free for the first month.  Our first project was a quintet for Good Friday. The finished music track was combined with lyrics and Lenten backgrounds as it was displayed on all our RingCentral meeting screens. It was a hit. The larger than normal Good Friday congregation heard familiar voices turning the service into a true work of the people. Some were seen in the RingCentral gallery view holding a tissue to their teary eyes. You can check out to what we have created over these past few weeks at ermuc.ca.  SoundTrap is turning out to be an effective, fun way to do the Work of the People in the midst of a pandemic.