Classical 91.5

Car Concerts Offer Choirs A Way To Rehearse And Perform

Jan 11, 2021
Originally published on January 13, 2021 6:04 am

For members of Luminous Voices, a professional choir ensemble in Alberta, Canada, rehearsing and performing safely during the pandemic has meant getting into their cars, driving to an empty parking lot and singing with each other's voices broadcast through their car radios.

This "car choir" solution is one that college music professor David Newman — an accomplished baritone himself in Virginia — came up with so that ensembles could sing and "be" together.

"I saw on my Facebook feed was friends either bemoaning the fact that we couldn't sing together at all, or saying 'Singing together is too important and we just have to do it no matter what,' " Newman tells NPR. "And I thought, neither of those is a good answer."

Newman's method uses a few simple tools — microphones, a mixer and an FM transmitter.

YouTube

He started by getting some friends together in the spring to experiment with singing, isolated in their cars, their voices connected by wireless microphones attached to a mixer.

After some thinking, a lightbulb went off: attach an FM transmitter to the mixer. That allowed the singers' voices to be broadcast back into their cars through the radio, without a discernable delay.

His YouTube videos about the process caught the attention of many singers and choir leaders. Newman figures about 20 choirs are using their cars and car radios for rehearsals — including Luminous Voices. The ensemble's founder and conductor, Tim Shantz, says this new way of singing together filled a void.

Shantz conducts Luminous Voices' first car concert, on Oct. 4, 2020. Audience vehicles are seen parked to behind him.
Kenton Smith

"For us not to be able to [sing together], it's like a whole part of our soul is sort of taken out. And we need to find ways to somehow fill that gap," Shantz tells NPR.

In addition to using the system for rehearsals, Luminous Voices has also performed two car concerts. Shantz estimates about 200 people attended one in December, all in their cars. Audience members gathered in a parking lot and tuned in to the performance on their radios. Instead of clapping, audience members honked horns.

For Shantz, those concerts were as much about the audience as the singers.

"It's not just about the performers and satisfying something for us. But there was this element of 'Wow, the participation of an audience really brought the whole experience to the fore,' " Shantz says. "And you realize the importance of performing arts."

Correction: 1/11/21

Previous photo captions misspelled Tim Shantz's last name as Schantz.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUMINOUS VOICES: (Vocalizing).

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

These are the Luminous Voices. They're a professional choir in the city of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, and they're performing "The Road Home" by Stephen Paulus - from their cars.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUMINOUS VOICES: (Singing) Tell me, where is the road I can call my own?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tim Shantz is the choir's founder and conductor, and he says not singing together at the beginning of the pandemic was painful.

TIM SHANTZ: For us not to be able to do that, it's, like, a whole part of our soul is sort of taken out. And we need to find ways to somehow fill that gap.

MOSLEY: Enter David Newman, a music professor at James Madison University in Virginia, who wanted to come up with a way for choirs to rehearse together.

DAVID NEWMAN: All I saw on my Facebook feed was friends either bemoaning the fact that we couldn't sing together at all or saying singing together is too important, and we just have to do it no matter what. And I thought, neither of those is a good answer (laughter).

MOSLEY: So he tapped into a tool we love here at NPR - the car radio.

MARTIN: Choir members use microphones attached to a sound mixer.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEATBOXING)

SHANTZ: All right. So it shows that there's a mic popping problem.

MARTIN: The mixer then feeds a cheap radio transmitter so the singers can hear their combined voices played back - with no lag - from their car radio speakers.

LUMINOUS VOICES: (Singing) Hail the new, ye lads and lasses. Fa la la, la la la, la la la...

MOSLEY: Now, choirs like the Luminous Voices are using their cars for drive-in performances, too.

LUMINOUS VOICES: (Singing) As I wake from a dream...

MOSLEY: And instead of clapping, the audience honks in applause.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS HONKING)

SHANTZ: Thank you. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS HONKING)

LUMINOUS VOICES: (Singing) From far away... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.