A Different Sound of Music
By Lotta Suter
SinceCovid-19 hit us in Mid-March, I’ve attended church every single Sunday. It’s not that I think this will change the outcome of the pandemic for myself or for the world at large. Sermons and prayers aren’t even my favorite spiritual practices. My steadfast presence in the First Congregational Church of Berlin, Vermont, is not least due to shortcomings of the technology that is used for the virtual worship services.
As we all know by now, having experienced more or less successful video conferences on Zoom, the sound can only come from one source at a time. Otherwise you get a lot of undesired echoes and delays. For musicians that means sadly that we cannot do chamber music or orchestra rehearsals remotely. For the Congregational Church it meant they needed a “Hymn Central”. And since both my husband and I sing and play instruments – and do it from the same computer – we were predestined to provide the musical part of the services. Each Sunday, we played a short instrumental prelude and postlude on violin/piano and sang and played the hymns while the congregation sang along in their living rooms – muted!
As time went on, we became quite creative and found ways to include the church choir – about a dozen people in a dozen different places – into the service. Our choir director chooses an anthem and assigns each line to a different choir member. When the time comes, all the singers unmute themselves (if they don’t forget it) and sing the anthem serially. It’s not always a musical highlight but a great way to connect. Sometimes we push the envelope of that social experience when the entire congregation, several dozen people, sing a line or two together, that is with all the Zoom delays in a babel of voices. That leads to a very different sound of music for sure.
Lately, my husband and I have banded up with the organist of the church. The three of us meet in the empty church and play and sing together. That feels almost like live music - if it was not for all the technical difficulties we have to conquer, starting with a wireless connection that is so slow that it catches only every second bar of music. A trip to the hardware store and seventy-five feet of internet cable enable us to circumvent the router and get a more continuous transmission – not that the tone quality is something to brag about.
It’s a work in progress. Maybe a new microphone? One more hymnal under the laptop to maximize the position of the receiving source? A different organ setting? I scan my musical library for pieces that lend themselves to these less than perfect conditions. And more often than not, I come up with traditional or folk tunes. This kind of music seems made for adapting to various realities and work with what is possible.
I am glad to have this limited opportunity of playing together with other people. I am also glad to provide some almost-live music. But I dream of future chamber music sessions and orchestra rehearsals and sounds that come from many different sources to make the one glorious whole.