By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — In the world of music, timing is everything. If just one person is out of sync, it can be enough to ruin the whole song.
Now, think about this for a moment: how much more difficult would it be for everyone — the choir and the musicians — to be on the same page if they weren’t in the same room?
That was the challenge that Scott Shepherd faced when he decided to put together a special video presentation by the Tennessee Baptist Men’s Chorale and the Tennessee Ladies Chorus for this year’s Virtual Summit.
Each member of the two choirs (the Chorale and Chorus) recorded a video of themselves singing (and/or providing accompaniment) to the song “I Will Make All Things New.” Shepherd then took the videos and “layered” them on top of each other to bring together a full choir experience.
Not surprisingly, it proved to be a painstaking project for Shepherd, worship and music specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
A perfectionist by nature, Shepherd worked on the project for more than six weeks, and estimated that he spent a total of about 150 hours bringing the song together.
His efforts proved worthwhile, and the video has been a big hit. As of Nov. 12, the video had been viewed more than 5,000 times. It can be viewed at TBCSummit.org.
A ten-year dream
Shepherd said he has been interested in the concept of bringing together a “virtual choir” since 2010, when he saw Eric Whitacre — a composer whom Shepherd calls “a virtual choir pioneer” — bring together 185 singers from 12 different countries into a single video.
“I had no idea how he pulled it off, but I was intrigued,” said Shepherd.
Shepherd kept the idea in the back of his mind for many years. Then, in recent months, he decided to revisit the idea after seeing videos of “virtual choirs” popping up all over the internet.
“This year has seen an explosion of virtual choirs,” he said. “It used to be a novelty, but now it has become the only way for choirs to sing ‘together.’ ”
Shepherd noted that some of the first TBC churches to give it a try were First Baptist, Dandridge (with Chris Headley), Brainerd Baptist (with Bryan Skinner), Red Bank (with Bradley Gray) and First Baptist Camden (with David Boyd). Many of these churches picked Easter Sunday to debut their virtual choirs, he said.
Shepherd said he ultimately decided that Virtual Summit would be the perfect time and “place” to try his hand at bringing together a virtual choir.
“For months, I had been mulling over the idea of a Tennessee Men’s Chorale and Tennessee Ladies Chorus Virtual Choir,” he said. “TMC and TLC haven’t sung together since January — the longest hiatus in either choir’s history. So, when the decision was made for Summit to be virtual, I knew the timing was right. TMC and TLC have been fixtures at Summit for many years, and I wanted that tradition to continue.”
How it worked
As the project began to take shape, Shepherd knew he had a big challenge on his hands. The Tennessee Baptist virtual choir had 96 participants — all of whom recorded themselves on their cell phones or computers as they sang or played their instruments — and it was up to Shepherd to bring them together, in unison.
“To ensure these videos would line up and sound uniform when I received them, I created ‘video guides’ — which were essentially video accompaniment tracks,” he said.
“The video guides allowed the participants to record themselves while watching a video of the sheet music and my conducting while listening to the piano accompaniment and their individual voice part.”
Shepherd said when the videos were combined, his goal was for them to “line up perfectly with precise entrances, cut-offs, etc. — just like you want in a real choir,” he said. “This process doesn’t take very long for five or six singers, but we had 96! Thankfully, I had some great Tennessee Baptist friends who helped share the load.”
Shepherd said Chris Headley, Bradley Gray, Todd Green and Scott Williams all provided assistance and guidance during the project.
After completing the audio element of the video, Shepherd focused on the visual aspect. He compared this part to something similar to an art project.
“Imagine creating a series of collages, where you arrange, crop, and resize pictures on a poster board,” he said.
Shepherd admitted the project was “quite daunting” especially in terms of finding time to work on the video while also maintaining the normal duties and obligations of his job, along with the responsibilities of “home life” with his family.
“It took slightly longer because this was my first project of this magnitude,” he said.
Shepherd’s perfectionist tendencies led to even more hours of tedious work in front of the computer.
“I wanted to create a project TMC and TLC could be proud of — one that would accurately reflect how they sound live,” he said. “I also recognized this song’s reach and impact would be vast. More folks would be ministered to by TMC and TLC through this one song than our concerts combined over the past 10 years. That helped me a bit in justifying the time spent.”
Shepherd said he would encourage other music ministers and worship leaders to attempt similar projects — if they are willing to invest the time.
“It’s a fulfilling and worthwhile endeavor, particularly if your choir is unable to gather in person during this season,” he said. “I would encourage you, however, to count the cost. Most folks underestimate the time it will take to complete such a project,” he said.
Music ministers and worship leaders will need to ask themselves several questions, Shepherd said, such as: Is this worth the time I will spend on it? What will I have less time to do if I begin this project? Are there better ways I could use my time?
“If, after asking those questions, you feel led to create a virtual choir, then I’d say, go for it,” he said.
Shepherd said he would be happy to discuss the challenges and benefits of these types of projects with any music ministers and worship leaders who are considering bringing a virtual choir together.
As for his own project, Shepherd said he learned a lot, and said he was pleased with the ultimate product.
“I enjoyed the process, and I’m so thankful for how it turned out,” he said, “but I’m even more thankful that it’s finished!”
— Worship leaders can e-mail Shepherd at email@example.com or reach him on his cell phone at 731-336-7235.