Sound Effect: Innovative recording idea helps Winnetka’s Christ Church cope with pandemic’s isolation
Members of Winnetka’s Christ Church Choir have continued singing together throughout the pandemic, thanks to a revolutionary discovery made by organist and choirmaster Richard Clemmitt.
“When the pandemic first hit, we were devastated to think that the simple act of singing could be so dangerous,” Clemmitt said. “We first relied on Zoom, thankful to stay connected and sing safely, but the musical latencies made the art of choral singing a true challenge. I hoped to find another way for our choir members to sing together safely.”
Through his determination and research, Clemmitt learned of a technique used by music professor David Newman, of James Madison University. Newman too shared many of Clemmitt’s frustrations, discovering that the solution existed in a $8 FM transmitter — a real game-changer in the art of safe choral singing.
When Clemmitt got wind of the concept, he followed a similar plan of action used by Newman and it didn’t take long for the pieces to fall into place.
By early fall 2020, the choir sang in unison without flaw while adhering to social distances regulations. The FM transmitter became an instrument of change.
Not before long, rooms within the church were transformed into socially distant, sanitized recording spaces; places where musical magic now regularly occurs.
“The first time we realized it worked, there were many cheers, especially from me,” Clemmitt said. “It was so great to hear the blended voices. It was like we were all in one room.”
Over the next several months, the idea kept growing and evolving.
Today, these recording spaces are used between five to seven days a week, allowing members to record their tracks safely with individual microphones before they are mixed into beautifully blended music on an audio mixing console.
For youth choir members like Amalie Macey, a student at Washburne, the approach has brought a sense of normalcy to a most uncertain time.
“I really enjoyed being able to come back and hear the voices of my friends in the choir. It’s different when you are at home and singing to a camera, versus singing in real time with others,” Amalie Macey said. “Best of all, returning back to the building has helped make things feel normal again. I’ve learned how important choir is, and how I can still try to make the best with this current life situation.”
Likewise, her older sister Lula, a student at New Trier, said it’s been nice to be able to do something in-person.
“While we’re not all singing in the same room together like we did before COVID, we are still interacting with one another which is so important, especially now,” she said. “It’s really nice to have an activity every week that doesn’t involve having to get on a Zoom.”
For Clemmitt, the experience reminds him how good it feels to find a solution to a problem.
“Most importantly,” he added, “I hope our music reminds others of all the good in the world and that the church is a place where love and hope forever exist.”
For more information or to learn about ways to hear the music safely, email email@example.com.
Alexa Burnell is a Wilmette resident who has been covering the North Shore for the past seven years, previously for The Wilmette Beacon and its sister newspapers.