Getting Over the Technology Hump as a Choral Director
SPONSORED CONTENT FROM A CHORUS AMERICA PARTNER
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was possible to be a successful choral director largely without incorporating technology into the musical process. Some directors had already become adept to various degrees, of course—but overnight, working with technology in some way or another to connect our ensembles in lieu of in-person singing became a mandatory part of the job description.
In its vision to create solutions that help directors make this technological leap, MatchMySound is working with choral professionals like Cathy Schane-Lydon who have experience with music technology throughout their careers. As a music tech specialist, Schane-Lydon advises the company with its choral-specific technologies—including My Choral Coach, a platform for guided singer practice and feedback; and RealTime Audio, a soon-launching platform for synchronous remote singing, which Chorus America members will have a special opportunity to receive access to before the general public. Schane-Lydon shared some of her background and experiences during the pandemic that give insight into her life wearing the dual hats of choral director and music technology specialist.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you manage roles as both a choral director and a music tech specialist.
Cathy Schane-Lydon: My mother was an organist and choir director, so my entire childhood I was part of her church choirs. I got my first church musician position when I was 18, and have directed church choirs, college choruses, and pop a cappella groups my entire life. I was fortunate enough to start learning Finale (a music notation program) from the days when you loaded the program into your computer using 14 floppy discs! Being tech-savvy has really helped me in many ways, and I find myself uniquely suited to help advise MatchMySound with My Choral Coach.
As a director, what was the greatest challenge you encountered during the pandemic, and what solutions did you come up with?
CSL: Obviously, the pandemic entirely upended my choirs. I even wrote a limerick about it to maintain some levity. All kidding aside, though, while singing propels those germs farther than we had previously worried about, singing in a choir is also a highly social and enjoyable activity. My church choir, as is the case for many, is made up of mostly older people, and there was no debate regarding the sudden cessation of singing in the group. But realizing the hole this created, I have instituted a weekly sing-a-long with hymns via Zoom. I send out the hymn choices on Wednesday mornings, and at 5:00 we gather online to sing and socialize. I think it’s made us closer, because we are face-to-face in our homes, and we’ve learned that Diane has a very affectionate cat, and Wendy has adorable grandkids whom she babysits weekly. This weekly sing-a-long has gone a long way to helping the loneliness and isolation that quarantine created, and I think it is a highlight of many of my choir members’ weeks.
I also think that this is a time to re-evaluate what we do, and why we do it. I’m naturally a pretty positive person, so taking the time to see this as a “new beginning,” as opposed to lamenting the loss of what was once “normal,” helps distill why we sing and hopefully helps us (as both directors and singers) forge ahead with new purpose.
You mention this is a positive time of a “new beginning” for the choral world. What does that mean to you?
CSL: This is a pretty amazing time…if this pandemic had happened even five years ago, we would not have had nearly the number of digital solutions that we have now. I know that I was sometimes guilty of maintaining the status quo, because I found it to be comfortable, predictable, and something I had always known. Now, we have to come up with new solutions and new ways to reach out to our choir members and to our congregations and audiences. This has empowered the individual choir members because they are now a part of the solution—no longer singers simply being led by the director. They feel more at ease to suggest music, as opposed to just singing what I have chosen for them. During this radical upset of the norm, better practices and solutions were found and ultimately required. I truly hope we not only keep these fantastic modern solutions, but find and use even more!
Any fun thoughts on the marriage of singing and technology?
CSL: Something about how video conferencing handles audio makes my dog bananas. As soon as the choir members enter my chat room, my dog howls and barks at the computer. Even if she is asleep across the room, she’ll immediately awaken and run toward me barking! It always starts the session with a laugh.
Can you share any words of wisdom when it comes to introducing choirs to using technology successfully?
CSL: Technology can be scary if you haven’t had a computer your entire life. I’ve tried to make it easier by having a simple link for my choir members to click, so that they don’t have to install anything or step out of their comfort zone more than they need to. And if someone is missing who I think should be there, I email another link to make sure they are in the right place. I also try to reassure everyone that they can’t break anything by clicking around and exploring. Everyone knows that they can call me and have me talk through any issues they are having. Who knew that I would be adding IT customer service representative to my resumé? But seriously, this has changed my relationship with the members of my choir for the better, and I feel honored to be their leader, finding new and exceptional ways to live our art as we grow closer and stronger with the help of some really exciting and engaging technology!
MatchMySound is releasing a new technology platform that enables synchronous remote singing—RealTime Audio—to the market in December 2021. Chorus America members have an exclusive opportunity to access RealTime Audio at a discounted rate before it becomes available to the general public. Take the quiz “Is Your Choir RealTime Ready?” to learn more about whether your ensemble has the necessary elements in place to join RealTime Audio’s early adopter program, and to take advantage of its synchronous remote capabilities.
To reach Cathy Schane-Lydon and the MatchMySound team with further questions about My Choral Coach or RealTime Audio, email [email protected].
This article is sponsored by MatchMySound. Thank you for supporting the partners that make Chorus America’s work possible. If you are interested in learning more about sponsored articles, please contact us at [email protected].