This page lists some repertoire ideas for remote music-making, covering both concepts and some specific pieces.
Performing in a high-latency environment requires specialized repertoire. Music that is normally the easiest and most straightforward for a chorus to sing, like four-part homophonic chorales, can be maddeningly difficult to sing remotely. On the other hand, pieces that might normally be thought of as adventurous and unusual, like aleatoric music, are just as effective when the latency is high.
Remote rep can be grouped according to how the latency is managed:
Each of these is covered below, with some suggested pieces where appropriate.
It can be tempting, especially after having performed one too many aleatoric pieces, to think, "How hard can it really be to just sing a nice, slow Thomas Tallis piece like we used to do in person?" The answer is: pretty hard!
In fact, we used to slap a "not advised" label on this approach. But recently we actually managed to make it work. The trick is to find a slow enough piece, and a conductor ready to handle a disorienting amount of delay. Here is our rendition of Christopher Fludd's Sunset, conducted by Joshua Chai.
Sunset is a short piece with a fair amount of rubato. We were determined to try it without a click track. So Josh conducted it with emotion and rubato, and tried to ignore the fact that, to him, we sounded nearly a full beat behind. Each of the singers pinned Josh in Zoom, and tried to stay with his gestures. The result was relatively satisfying. We got to sing with a conductor and without a click track for the first time in a while. Of course this can only work if everyone has a reliable, wired connection to the Internet. And we lowered the buffering to reduce latency, lowering the sound quality.
Using a Designated "Lead Singer"
One solution, especially when singing simple music, is to anoint one person as the leader, who sets the tempo and sings through the piece while trying not to listen to anyone else. They can actually mute everyone else and sing the piece as a solo. The other singers key off the leader and sing along. With this brave leadership to keep people in step, the results can be rewarding for everyone except the leader.
I participated in a singing circle where we sang simple harmonized melodies, and was surprised at how natural and easy it was felt with the latency. I talked to the leader afterwards, and found out that it was a whole different experience for him, very disorienting to have everyone lagging behind. But if the leader role is rotated around, each singer can have a good experience most of the time.
When performing a concert using a leader, the audience experience can be improved by muting the leader in the final mix. If everyone's latency is reasonably well matched, the audience will hear everyone except the leader at about the same time, whereas the leader would appear to be leading everyone.
The most obvious choice when singing remotely is a piece where the parts don't need to be synchronized. Aleatoric music, where each person sings their part at their own pace, is a good fit. Such music often has cue points where parts move from one aleatoric section to the next. These points can be numbered on each page. The conductor then holds up a number of fingers to indicate the cue point. This has worked well for us. Here are some possible aleatoric and mainly-aleatoric pieces.
Aleatoric music can be taken to the next level with graphic scores, where there may be very little conventional notation, and the singers are asked to interpret what is on the page in their own way. For instance:
Using a Click Track
As described on the Engineering page, it is possible to use a dedicated computer to send a click track to the singers, and then mute the click in the final mix, so the audience doesn't hear it. We have found that the click track is most effective in rhythmic, bouncy pieces. When singing such pieces, hearing the click track in your ear doesn't spoil the mood as much. Here is our performance of The Campers at Kitty Hawk by Michael Dellaira, which is about as rhythmic and bouncy as you can get. We used only eight singers for this performance, to maximize our rhythmic precision. You can hear a fair amount of crackle, because we lowered our buffering to minimize latency.
We have also used a click track to sing pieces that aren't particularly livestream-appropriate, but can be made to work with a click. For instance, here is our performance of Christopher Fludd's lovely piece "Dawn". It came out reasonably well, and was rewarding to sing. But you can hear the raggedness that comes from latency differences between singers, so the audience doesn't get as good an experience. And the singers had to put up with a robotic click track in their headphones, which spoiled a little of the beautiful, contemplative mood of the piece. I will be very happy when we can reprise this piece in the same room.
The click track concept can be taken even further, and include not only the click but the notes. This has the same disadvantages noted above, but the advantage of helping the singers pick out pretty difficult notes. Some pieces that might be quite difficult to do the old-fashioned way could become easier in a remote live performance — less precise rhythmically, but more in tune.
Using an Electronic Track
An electronic track is similar to a click track, except that the audience hears the electronic track as well. The track could be a framework for aleatoric singing, as in Gather by Scott Gendel. We performed this piece as a collaboration with Psophonia Dance Company of Houston, setting our Zoom grid to show only two of the singers and two video angles on the dances, as we sang along to Scott's prerecorded track.
Alternatively, the electronic track could be more akin to a click track in terms of keeping a steady rhythm.