Spring Convocation 2020 featured a virtual choral rendition of Hail, Alma Mater


Published: 18Jun2020
A screenshot of the Schulich Singers performing Hail, Alma Mater

This year’s Virtual Convocations took place June 17-18. As is customary in McGill’s traditional graduation ceremonies, these virtual convocations featured short musical performances including a recording of McGill’s Hail, Alma Mater, a song that has been sung by the late Prof. Winston Purdy, Prof. Tracy Smith Bessette, and now, the Schulich Singers with soloist Jenny Ivanovna and Artistic Director Jean-Sébastien Vallée.

As virtual performances continue to become more popular with current social distancing measures in place, we asked Jean-Sébastien Vallée to elaborate more on the process of creating this wonderful performance.

How did you and the Schulich Singers become involved in this project?

Prof. Tracy Smith Bessette, who has been singing the Alma Mater for the commencement ceremonies in previous years, put me in touch with the virtual commencement ceremonies team. The idea of doing a virtual choir to sing the Alma Mater quickly became obvious – virtual choirs have become the new trend since the beginning of pandemic.

What is involved in putting together a video like this?

Putting together a virtual choir requires several steps. First, we asked Schulich Student Francis Choiniere to create a choral arrangement of the piece. We then created a midi track with audio that we layered with the conductor’s video. Each singer received the track and an annotated score, they were then asked to record their part at home using whatever equipment was available to them. We then compiled all the individual recordings made by the singers and edited the video and audio to create the final results. It took about 20 hours of audio and video editing to create the final result.

As someone who has been involved in a few video projects for choirs, what tips would you give to someone who is interested in creating their own?

Give yourself plenty of time and clearly communicate your expectation to the singers. I suggest using an annotated score since you usually don’t have the opportunity to rehearse the music as a group. Also, if you’re not an audio/video expert, surround yourself with talented audio/video editing friends! The quality of the final product heavily depends on the work done in post-production.

Do you have a message for the Class of 2020?

We were all shaken by how the academic year 2019-20 ended – it truly came as a shock for most of us. As we are now reflecting on the future of music and its role in the post COVID-19 world, it’s a good time to remember that education is about experiences and challenges. The past few months, although unsettling, may actually have be one of the most meaningful and eye-opening experiences you lived through – it will certainly inform your work as an artist and even better prepare you to tackle the challenges facing 21st century musicians. Congratulations on your achievements, and we all look forward to seeing how your unique experience will shape and redefine the world of music.

Watch the Schulich School of Music's Spring 2020 Virtual Convocation ceremony.

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