In 2020, when it came time to think about presenting the University’s signature Feast of Lights holiday worship concert, the director of the two-hour choral and instrumental event was ready to go big despite the necessity of a virtual approach.
That’s because, in the previous months, Nicholle Andrews, U of R director of choral studies who oversees the Feast of Lights, and her husband, Brad Andrews, director of music admissions and music technology, had conceived and directed dozens of virtual performances. Many of these involved U of R choral and music students and the Phoenix Chamber Choir in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Nicholle is artistic director.
While each online pandemic-era presentation was a mammoth, painstaking exercise with considerable immersion in technology, cooperation, and patience, the results garnered immense viewership and praise from around the world. Early on in the pandemic, Nicholle enlisted a few students from her Chapel Singers ensemble to contribute to the Phoenix Chamber Choir’s quarantine rendition of Billy Joel’s hit song “The Longest Time.” Joel sent a note to Nicholle saying, “Considering how well your choristers performed while isolated from each other, that would certainly bode well for future performances when they can all be together in the same place.”
Producing virtual performances has also allowed Nicholle to think about historic events in new, innovative ways. For the 2020 Feast of Lights, she and Brad worked with a team of technicians to digitize archival materials, form a new repertoire, and make sure the online event was accessible to all.
The Andrewses built skills with every virtual performance that ultimately enriched the experience for both performers and audience. “To produce a three-minute virtual choir video with 30 to 40 singers takes about 50 to 60 hours of audio and video editing,” says Brad, and many of their finished productions were close to 60 minutes long. “That doesn’t include the hours singers spend preparing their individual videos.”
After students memorize and record their individual parts, hundreds of individual files are submitted to the Andrewses. Nicholle reviews each one for tempo, pitch, and other technical factors and works with Brad to make small adjustments, bringing voices and instruments into perfect virtual harmony.
From an educational perspective, the mission was to create a way for students to perform and improve their musicianship during an otherwise solitary time. “They also learned how to produce virtual recordings and now have valuable technological skills,” says Nicholle, who credits the students for seizing the experience. “Without their work, we would not have the performances, which are the heart of the videos.”
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