When the sweet conclusion “sleep in heavenly peace” sounds more like “sleep in heavenly pieces-s-s,” Matt Pollock reaches for his digital editing tools.
“The S-es are kind of all over the place,” chuckled the musician, teacher and volunteer video editor for the Vancouver Master Chorale. It’s Pollock’s job to blend the individual tracks recorded at home by 29 singers so everyone’s in time, and to subtly smooth down any rough edges.
“I just do a very gentle massaging of certain spots, like if somebody comes in way early, or the placement of those S-es,” he said. “It’s tough because you can only do so much before you lose the live feel.”
The result of all that solo singing plus Pollock’s digital editing is a Vancouver Master Chorale holiday concert presented in pandemic style — a streaming video everyone can enjoy safely at home. That’s the best way the chorale can generate some merry and bright spirits during a dark and difficult time, music director Jana Hart said.
The coronavirus pandemic may have blocked the live performances that are beloved seasonal traditions for performers and audiences alike: holiday concerts, “The Nutcracker” ballets, life-affirming dramas like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol.” But many performers have responded in classic thespian spirit: The show must go on!
Online, that is. This season, Clark County singers, dancers and actors have adapted their holiday offerings from stage to screen. You can enjoy the fruits of their artistic labors throughout this month. Most performances are free and can be streamed whenever you please; a few are set for specific times, just as live holiday performances always used to be, before the pandemic Grinch stole this year’s Christmas.
Screenful of song
The pandemic has stopped many artistic endeavors, Hart said, but none more completely than choirs, groups of people who belt out their breath while clustered closely together. A choir rehearsal in Mount Vernon, outside of Seattle, became an infamous superspreader event early in the pandemic, with nearly all attendees getting sick and several dying. That sent a major chill through the world of group singing, Hart said, with many groups afraid to reunite for the foreseeable future.
That’s deprived many choir members not just of music but the center of their social lives too.
“When you sing in a choir you get so close to everybody,” said singer Amy Christenson.
A halfway solution is the virtual or Zoom choir featuring a screenful of singers, each one in a little box, who recorded their parts separately and forwarded them to an editor like Pollock for seamless blending. The singers all wore headphones and sang along with a backing track created by Hart, Pollock said. On a few occasions, Hart briefly met just a few singers and the choir accompanist at their usual base.
The Vancouver Master Chorale stream will include two “virtual carols” featuring 29 singers, all edited together by Pollock. The stream will also include videos of past holiday concerts; member soloists and musicians singing with family at home; and special guests including the Misty Mamas with bluegrass carols, Carl Thor with hammered dulcimer music, Jim Fischer playing a holiday piano set, Darcy Schmitt singing holiday jazz and an appearance by Opera Quest NW.
“As I started talking with friends about this, word got out quickly and local talent started jumping on board,” Hart said. “Everyone felt that this is exactly what we need this holiday season.”
The sound of Scrooge
If you’ve reached the point of “Bah! Humbug!” over endless screen staring, here’s a throwback entertainment idea: a timeless Christmas tale told only in sound, with nothing to look at, requiring listeners to create pictures in their imaginations. That’s the idea behind two upcoming radio-play productions of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.”
This week, the Jemtegaard Middle School drama club will offer their pre-recorded, edited-together version. Most of the roles in this “Christmas Carol” are performed by Jemtegaard kids, with the leads performed by adults, including Portland actor John Hugill as Ebenezer Scrooge and Jemtegaard principal David Cooke as Bob Cratchit.
The final product is authentic, old-fashioned radio drama with no visuals. That was a new idea for the kid actors, club leader and show director Diana Larson said: drama for ears only, requiring close listening and an active imagination. Spooky sound effects will help listeners’ imaginations along, she added.
The same sound-only style goes for the this year’s “Radio Christmas Carol” performance. It’s by Re-Imagined Radio, a project led by faculty member John Barber of Washington State University Vancouver, and normally a live audience at the Kiggins Theatre enjoys watching while the Re-Imagined voice actors read their lines and the sound-effects artist creates sonic illusions.
But there’s no show at the Kiggins this year. “A Radio Christmas Carol” will be broadcast live on several community radio stations at 3 p.m. Christmas Eve, Barber said.
“We’re asking interested listeners to go to their closets, their basements, their attics, to find and dust off their set aside radio sets, and join us in this unique holiday event,” Barber said. “This … brings Re-Imagined Radio back to its roots — families gathered around the radio set, listening with others in their homes.”