Do you remember that feeling prior to a live performance — excitement in the air, a giant to-do list, and your generous volunteers stepping up to make it happen?
Many of us miss that feeling as we deal with the effects of COVID on our regular holiday performance season. The good news is we can still achieve some of the same “before performance” feelings as we prepare for our new virtual performances.
Get your singers excited and ready for their virtual debuts (or returns to the screen). Here are six tips for your holiday virtual performance videos so your singers can get that “perfect” take!
1. Set the Stage
Prior to an in-person performance there is often a lot of commotion with the set up of risers, dressing room preparations, getting props in place, and such. For your virtual recording, set the stage in your home!
Find a place where you have all of the necessary gear you need to feel like you are ready to perform. Grab your water to sip between takes, props your director has instructed you to use, and proper lighting so your face shows clearly in your video. Having everything in place will ensure you are in performance mode when you hit the record button!
2. Dress to Impress
Getting into your performance wear can really get you in the right mindset in order to give your best virtual performance. Following whatever attire rules your chorus has in place, really take the attire seriously and do your best to look and feel great.
It might be tempting to cheat by wearing sweatpants on the bottom and a dress shirt on top, but why not go all out?! Dust off that cummerbund! Give yourself a beautiful performance ‘do! Go all out with your holiday makeup!
3. Block Out Time
On the day of in-person performances, you would normally need to give yourself at least a couple of hours prior to get ready. This includes making work or childcare arrangements, gathering your performance kit and belongings, having a snack or a meal, and eating lozenges so your throat feels ready to sing!
Similarly, for a virtual performance, block out time in your day so you don’t feel rushed or pressured to complete your video in record time. Put your pets in a place where they won't disturb you and ask your family or roommates to give you some alone time. Not only will you be more relaxed for your performance, but you’ll have some time for “do overs” as needed.
4. Know the Camera
Many of us are new to recording ourselves on a device, much less doing a performance! One of the most important things you can do is know where the camera is on your computer, tablet, or phone and practice moving in and out of the frame.
I’ve witnessed virtual snafus where performers are instructed to hold up props or do choreography, and there is one person whose prop ends up off the screen or their choreography looks out of place because they didn’t know the placement of their camera. This situation can be distracting for the audience and take away from the performance video as a whole.
Director's Tip: Take a few minutes prior to a virtual rehearsal to have folks explore their camera on their device. Practice using props and choreography before the recording deadline, so your singers know exactly what to do!
5. Set Up the Background
It can be hard to find just the right space to do your performance if you are singing at home. Most of us don’t want our kitchen table or armchair in the background of our virtual choir videos.
In most cases, you will likely want some type of neutral background. You might need to take some time to find that neutral space, rearrange your furniture, or arrange your props for the video. In some cases, I've seen singers hang a plain sheet from an entry way or on the wall so that their background is neutral and more performance-friendly. This could also be a part of your process of setting the stage for your performance (see tip #1).
Director's Tip: If you want a consistent background image for your virtual choir performance, alert your singers to what your vision is for the video ahead of time. Whether it’s a black background with specific performance wear or a holiday-themed setting, get your singers involved in this detail so they feel excited about preparing for a virtual recording in their at-home environment.
6. Map the Music
Most of us have it engrained to follow our director for important cues when we are in live performances. Since your director likely won’t be in your house with you during your virtual performance recording, don’t be afraid to hang or post a musical “map” nearby that helps guide you through your goals for your recording. This could include which props you need when, quick choreography reminders, or breathing reminders, for example. You could also put up word cues for difficult verses, or the form of the song (ABA, ABACA, etc.) so you remember the order of the lyrics.
Director's Tip: Even though your virtual choir performance will likely take hours to put together after all the recordings are in, provide your singers with the details about your performance goals just like you would for a live show. We want our singers to feel prepared, confident, and proud of their hard work! Communicating the desired outcome can help them achieve this goal. If you're able to provide a guide track with cues, this can also help your singers feel more confident in their performance.
Because we are in such atypical times, it can often be the typical things that make us feel grounded and excited for a new adventure. This holiday season find those typical things that you would expect from a live holiday performance and incorporate them into your virtual recordings, so you feel the magic that comes from sharing your musical gifts at this time of year.
Do you have any virtual recording dos and don’ts? Share them in the comments!
Amanda Carroll currently teaches middle school chorus and general music in North Carolina. She is a member of Carolina Style Chorus and Sweet Adelines International and is a non-performing member of Womansong of Asheville. She has Master of Music and Master of Public Administration degrees from Appalachian State University. Her background includes singing with large and small ensembles, as well as solo work and teaching private lessons. She is passionate about creating meaningful concerts and connecting with the community through performance.