WESTFIELD-Voices are coming together in song each week to celebrate and sing the praises of God at the Episcopal Church of the Atonement – through a Virtual Choir.
“The idea of virtual choirs has been around for a while,” said Scott Bailey, who serves as the church’s director of music. “They were made highly popular among choral enthusiasts by composer Eric Whitacre who created virtual choirs out of thousands of singers worldwide.”
Bailey said that after several weeks of trying music live via the Zoom platform for Sunday services, he found the process wasn’t working and decided a pre-recorded track would be a better musical offering for the congregation.
“We tried it first at our Easter Vigil service back in April,” said Bailey, adding, “From then on, it became a fairly straightforward process which we all got better at.”
Bailey said the process has been working out since then “quite well.”
“Our singers receive rehearsal tracks mid-week, record themselves singing, and then send in those recordings by Saturday evening,” said Bailey, who combines all of the voices together on his computer, edits where necessary, and adds a “fair amount” of reverb which helps to create a fuller choir sound. Once the process is complete, the tracks are ready for the Sunday morning service which is viewed via the internet.
“We have the full choir sound without anybody standing near another person,” said Bailey.
Bailey explained that the recording of the rehearsal tracks takes about 90 minutes, while receiving, inputting, and lining up each voice part can take up to another two hours, depending on the length of the hymn and if substantial edits are required.
“The parishioners mute themselves while the hymn is playing which allows them to sing along without interfering with the audio,” said Bailey. “The biggest concern with in-person singing is that most of the studies show that singing puts people at a much greater risk of both transmitting COVID-19 through exhalation and receiving it through increased inhalation which is required for proper breath energy for singing.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, eight to 12 choir members participated on a “typical Sunday” along with four paid choral scholars.
“Our virtual choir currently enlists on average seven to eight individual singers,” said Bailey, adding, “I tend to record several voice parts myself which fills out the sound.”
Since the choir records three to four hymns every week, more singers are welcome to join the virtual choir, according to The Rev. Nancy Webb Stroud.
“If there are singers who would like to get involved we would welcome that very much,” said Webb Stroud, who is also lending her voice to the virtual choir. “Singing is so good for us, as well as physically good for us.”
Webb Stroud added that since she has been participating in the virtual choir, music has also helped her “spiritual well-being” during these uncertain times due to the pandemic.
“Singing elevates your mood and lifts you spiritually,” she said.
For local residents who would like to participate in the virtual choir, send an email to Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“My sense is that our singers really enjoy knowing that they can still sing with their friends and colleagues even when we’re distant from each other,” said Bailey.
In other church news, Webb Stroud said “very reluctantly” the annual Strawberry Festival was canceled for this year.
“We had just gotten started with the planning and the quarantine happened,” she said, adding the committee has put the event on hold until 2021.
Also, the Little Free Library on the church grounds at 36 Court St. transitioned into a food pantry recently for persons in need, in collaboration with the Westfield Food Pantry.
“Katie Bailey is our Little Free Library librarian and Jean Turgeon, Debbie Bruno, and Sarah Beard came up with the food pantry idea,” said Webb Stroud. “We hope to have another Little Free Library installation soon so we can offer both “feeding of the community through books and food.”
Webb Stroud said the church’s board of directors continue to adapt to the present circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our diocese buildings are shut down until July 1, and after that date, our diocese has guidelines that are really strict about not gathering for any longer than what we need to do,” said Webb Stroud. “We have to figure out unique ways to express the presence of God in ways we hadn’t had to think about before.”