In 2020, musical groups are looking for ways to sing and play together while following social distancing recommendations. We've tried Zoom/Skype and we've tried virtual choirs, and they are better than nothing...but it doesn't compare to making music together live. With the Driveway Choir project, we have found a way to sing together very safely, live with no latency, using audio gear.
If your group is considering doing something like this, we would love to talk with you about your ideas and needs. You can join a Facebook group called "Making music together during COVID" or you can email the address at the bottom of this page.
One of our neighbors takes walks most evenings. She kept noticing people singing in their cars near our house and was very curious what we were up to. We explained about the Driveway Choir project in an interview, and she wrote this article "Making music together, while staying apart" in a local publication called Community Advocate. We're excited that other groups have been learning to do this too, partly through the videos and instructions that we made.
Somerset Hills Harmony and several other barbershop groups in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have started singing in cars, and they are super excited about it. Christian Hunter organized a series of presentations to teach other groups how to do it.
See their training materials at The Drive-in Rehearsal: Singing safely during the pandemic, and you can join their Facebook group "Hot Rods and Harmony."
Bryce was one of the presenters in the technical session on September 23, 2020.
Tori Cook from Chorus Connection wrote an article, Could drive-in choirs be the solution we have all been waiting for. She interviewed us and several others who have been doing events like these.
To improve our wireless microphone performance and to allow the Driveway Choir to sing in bad weather, we've worked with two audio/radio experts on an antenna upgrade. Thank you to Jan Helbers and Kem Stewart for their contributions. In this video, we test it out and explain how it works. Bryce also shows how to use an RF Explorer portable spectrum analyzer to understand what your mics and FM transmitter are doing.
If you want to make your own antenna unit, we've documented it in the Technical Details section below.
On August 6, we took the Driveway Choir on the road for the first time. We facilitated a rehearsal for members of St. Anne's Episcopal church in Lincoln, MA. We used wireless microphones and a mixer to combine our voices together, and an FM transmitter to send the mixed choir sound to people's car radios so they could hear each other live. Jay Lane conducted, and played piano and organ. After warming up, we practiced and then recorded a few pieces. Jay used one of them for the online church service that week.
This event included 18 singers on wireless microphones, an oboe, piano, and conductor. The audio system was basically "System#1" described in our instructions, with some extra mics. The previous video from July 20 shows the construction of the rack.
This video is music-only after the first 2 minutes. We have different singers each time--whoever is available and interested in the area. We rehearse each piece a few times and then run all the way through it. We make an audio recording of the whole event and extract the best parts afterward.
We're gearing up to take the Driveway Choir on the road. But first, we needed to make it much easier to transport and set up. This shows how I built racks for a large-mixer system and a small-mixer system out of 1x3 and 1x2 pine boards.
We did our largest Driveway Choir yet on July 2, with 17 singers and a conductor. We used microphones and a mixer to combine our voices together, and an FM transmitter to send the mixed choir sound to people's car radios so that they could hear each other live. This time we accompanied the singers on an electric piano as well, and recorded ourselves.
The mixer is a Mackie CR24-4 and the FM transmitter is a Schosche FM battery powered transmitter. We used some Pyle wired mics and some GTDaudio wireless mics, and a Roland electric piano. For detailed on how this works, just scroll down and look for a document called "Audio systems to enable physically distant singing". It is a work in progress, but it describes a few possible audio systems that can work for this sort of event, and a lot of things that we've learned that work (and don't work).
This video documents the July 2 event and explains the audio system that we used.
Complete recordings from July 2. This is the sound that the singers heard through their car radios.
On June 10, we met and sang again. This time after rehearsing a bit, we asked everyone to take selfie videos from inside their cars, so that we could document it better. We also tried getting out of the cars and singing at a safe distance in different ways. The video ends with "Joyful joyful, we adore thee."
Here is a video of "Joyful joyful" all by itself.
We learned that David Newman in Virginia is working on a similar project, enabling singers to rehearse from the safety of their cars. We met on Zoom and we've been sharing ideas. He uses wireless microphones and FM radio, and he has helped many different groups in his area. Be sure to read his page and watch his videos too. Setting up a realtime physically distant rehearsal
After purchasing some audio equipment and learning how to use it, we invited four singers from Labyrinth Choir over to try it on May 27, 2020. Four singers used a Nubwo gaming headset that was wired to a 4-channel mixer, and sang together live from inside their cars.
Here is the first Driveway Choir video that explains how it works and how it sounds.
September 24, 2020. This document explains how to choose equipment and set up a Driveway Choir of your own.
August 29, 2020. This document describes the antenna unit that we introduced in our August 29 video. It's an optional add-on that can improve wireless microphone sound/range, and allows you to put your antennas outside (where it may rain or snow) and your audio system inside.
June 17, 2020 (updated September 26, 2020). If you are building an audio system like this, you may prefer different sorts of mics, or different ways to play the sound back to the musicians. To help people choose, we've made a table of configurations to choose from. It includes the cost per singer for each choice, and a photo of each one.