April 06, 2020

School choirs combine for virtual ‘Hallelujah’

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Caption: "The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift / The baffled king composing Hallelujah." The combined choirs of Hudson Falls and Queensbury sing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

A decade ago, Matt Gaulin was Diane Havern’s music student. Today, the two teachers are making beautiful music again, digitally bringing together their high school students to create a virtual choir. The result is a powerful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in a video that has drawn more than 62,000 online views and rave reviews.

Havern, who teaches in Hudson Falls, and Gaulin, her counterpart in Queensbury, have talked frequently about getting their high school choirs together for a combined performance — but it never happened. Now, with schools closed and teachers experimenting with all kinds of remote learning, it seemed like the perfect time to give it a try.

“We made it an optional assignment,” Havern said. “We know how kids have been overwhelmed with everything that’s happening now — we just wanted it to be fun.”

To see how going virtual would work, Havern and Gaulin made a practice recording with her singing separate soprano and alto parts, while he sang tenor and bass. Next step was to try it with the kids.

To help students learn their parts, Havern made a conducting track and the pair sent each person an individualized practice track. They also sent students directions on how to use their phones to record themselves, plus lighting tips. “It was quite involved,” Havern said. “Some of the kids said it took them four takes to get it just right.”

Gaulin, who teaches a music technology elective, mixed it all together — collecting the individual recordings of 16 voices, uploading the audio to Logic Pro to edit and then combining the audio and video with WeVideo. All together, the project took about two weeks.

“The response has really been surprising,” Havern said. “I think making music has been therapeutic for all of us.”

“They’re missing coming together at school,” added Gaulin, who has asked his students to write reflections on how they’re feeling during this extended time at home. “They miss that sense of connection and they miss coming together to make music. When this is all over and we’re back in real school, we’re hoping to do this again in person.”

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