Laura Mackay and Frank Althaus of Petros Singers tell us how they livestreamed their Covid-secure in-person rehearsals to members who were unable to attend in person.
Petros Singers is a chamber choir based in West London. We take great pleasure in singing beautiful music to a high standard, and perform a wide-ranging and diverse repertoire, collaborating with top-class orchestras, instrumentalists and soloists. We have 40 auditioned members with ages ranging from 22 to 80! We rehearse weekly during term-time and perform four or five concerts a year in West or Central London.
Did you consider any other options for carrying out rehearsals before deciding to livestream?
From the onset of the first lockdown, Zoom has proved to be a wonderful platform for us to continue to rehearse, sing weekly and maintain vocal technique - as well as maintain cohesion as a choir. However, along with every other choir and music group, we wanted to get back to in-person rehearsals as quickly as possible. Singing together is an essential part of the experience and joy of being in a chamber choir. Given the diverse age range within Petros Singers, and bearing in mind members most at risk, we needed to be as inclusive as possible when in-person rehearsals restarted; livestreaming was therefore the natural and easy choice to make. We did not consider rehearsing without livestreaming as that would have excluded those members unable to join us in person.
Did you consult your members before making a decision? What was the level of enthusiasm for livestreamed rehearsals, and were there any concerns?
Our membership officer maintained contact with the members throughout the first lockdown, so consultation was ongoing. We knew that those who were able to were keen to return to in-person rehearsals, and the uptake of the livestreaming option by those unable to join us in person was incredibly high. We have had universally positive feedback, with no complaints. Our only concern was that the internet speed in the church where we rehearse might not cope. However, it was fortunate that the church had already taken steps to improve their internet connection for livestreaming services to their congregation.
How many members engaged with the livestreamed rehearsal? Did you notice any trends in terms of who did or didn’t engage?
It was mainly older members who chose to engage with the livestreamed rehearsals, and take-up was both positive and high. Singers taking part this way said they really felt as if they were in the room with the rest of us. It was good that they were already familiar with online rehearsing from the lockdown Zoom rehearsals, so returning to the church felt like a great leap forward, whether in person or online.
We livestreamed eight rehearsals and the numbers remained consistent, except in the case of those who moved on from the livestreaming option to appear in person.
What was your technical set-up?
Our equipment consisted of: two laptops (one with an integrated camera), one standalone video camera mounted on a tripod, and one good quality microphone. Both laptops were logged in as a separate Zoom attendee to the same meeting. The video camera (1) on the tripod was pointed at the musical director and had audio switched off. The first laptop had its camera (2) facing out towards the choir, and was connected to the microphone; this was positioned near the MD to ensure good sound quality. The second laptop was operated by a choir member (our ticket officer, who has the technical know-how).
Remote attendees were told to choose the Zoom option to ‘spotlight’ camera 1, so that the conductor was in their main Zoom picture. Camera 2 was therefore effectively just letting them see what the rest of the choir was up to, which helped recreate a bit of the atmosphere.
How did you manage the online attendees?
Control of the system was in the capable hands of our MD and ticketing officer; between them they ensured that livestreaming participants were let into the session and muted/unmuted as required. As our MD had a screen facing him, it was easy to see a raised hand whenever online attendees had a question. He also made a point of specifically addressing them to keep them fully involved in the rehearsal.
What are your top tips for any other groups thinking about livestreaming rehearsals?
- Make sure that your venue has good, fast internet provision.
- Ensure that there is a clear line of vision to the musical director so that he/she can be seen clearly by those online, and that the MD can see the screen for anyone needing to be let in/ask a question.
- Make sure that a technically-minded member of the choir has access to the second laptop and can assist the MD by letting people in to the rehearsal. Some members came and went due to connection problems, and it would have been disruptive for the MD to deal with such issues.
- Have a good quality microphone (ideally a condenser mic): the higher the quality, the better!
- Be brave! Do it. Try it out. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain if you have members who are either unable or unwilling to participate in person just yet. Livestreaming is inclusive and reminds those who can’t be with us that they haven’t been forgotten. They are still very much a part of the choir and much missed by those of us in the room.
Wondering how to combine online and in-person activity? Read our guide to blended rehearsals
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