Time to face the music
Tuesday at 4:24 pm
I never thought I was a great singer, so I hesitated before I joined a choir a few years ago. But it was for a good cause — my congregation’s High Holiday services — with a limited yearly engagement. Even though I can’t read music, I was sure that if I stood next to an alto who knew what she was doing, I could stay on pitch. Plus, it was a convivial group. Go to a choir party, and you’ll see what I mean.
With services reimagined in this pandemic year, I figured I’d be singing along mutely on Zoom. Instead, I ended up recording myself for a virtual choir. Doing so meant I had to conquer technological challenges — involving earbuds, Photo Booth, and a case of beer — only to discover that I have a truly terrible singing voice.
Here’s how it went down. Our congregation hires ringers — a choir director and four professional singers — to enhance our amateur group. This year, working remotely, that talented core of pros recorded their solos and then laid down a track so that the rest of us could add our voices.
To record ourselves we needed two devices, one so that we could listen to the recording via earphones and another to make a video of ourselves singing along. Thinking I’d record myself with my phone, I tried, and failed, to sync my earbuds to my desktop computer to hear the track. When that didn’t work, I decided to do things the other way around. I used my phone, already in an intimate relationship with my earbuds, to tune in to the track.
But how to record myself? Google informed me that my iMac has a power I had never tapped: Photo Booth. The app records stills and videos and issues a retro 3-2-1 warning before recording begins. Problem solved.
With that worked out, a new problem emerged. Singing is best done standing, and when I stood up, the little green light above the screen lined up with my diaphragm. Angling the screen up wouldn’t work, because we had been instructed to stand close to the recording device to capture the sound at full volume, but that would have distorted the video. The solution was the case of beer. Placed beneath my computer, it raised it to the perfect height.
Pretty slick setup, if I do say so myself. And thus I heard myself sing for the first time. My disappointment was profound. Caterwauling would be too kind a description. Even with pitch-perfect voices inside my ears, I couldn’t land a note. I deleted the recording and tried again. And again.
I used my MasterClass subscription to take a voice lesson with Christina Aguilera, who reminded me that a cup of hot tea would soothe my vocal cords. I practiced outside and far apart from a couple of choir members who live nearby. Eager to get the case of beer off my desk, I gave it one last try. Still awful, but I needed to put an end to this. I sent in my recording with permission to mute my audio and just show my smiling face — except that I wasn’t even smiling as I struggled to look at the lyrics.
But here’s the miracle of a choir. The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts. When I watched the video of the entire choir singing together from boxes stitched together on the now familiar patchwork of Zoom, I heard harmony. I couldn’t make out my voice — and I had been assured that despite my permission, I would not be muted. All I heard was the beauty of communal song, more powerful than any aria. Time to crack open one of those bottles of beer.