A message from Jennifer Nicolosi, Lead Music Director

The last 14 months have certainly presented challenges for musical performances and how we present music for services. We have had so many talented people assist us in keeping our fabulous music program running. Some of you may be wondering, though, how do they do it? What goes into creating the videos you see during services? Is it the same as the work that goes into in-person services?

In some ways, things have stayed the same: special music and hymns are chosen based on the topic of the sermon. We try to vary the style of music and type of group performing (Ruben or myself, choir, Kaleidoscope, etc.) based on the musical style and the availability of musicians. The church purchased annual music licenses that allow us to use a large amount of copywritten material in our services, provided the performances are by our own musicians. But it is a factor in the selections we make for every service.

The largest change is the actual performance; for in-person services, musicians practice ahead of time and then have “one shot” at the performance. When music is pre-recorded, musicians can record multiple times and choose the best take for the service. Personally, I find this to be both a relief and a source of frustration.  I am a perfectionist and that means that I delete and re-record music a number of times before I’m happy with the performance (and even then, I often listen to it later and wish I’d done something differently).

At the beginning of the pandemic, Ruben and I recorded the accompaniment (piano part) for a number of hymns. During the service, whoever was the hymn leader would play the accompaniment track through a speaker and sing along live. For the special music selections, musicians recorded audio tracks that could be shared during the live-stream service. Since a blank screen during those audio tracks would not be interesting, Kelly spent countless hours adding visual collages or still images to the audio. As it became apparent that live-stream services were going to continue for some time, we decided to record videos of performances; this was not only to relieve Kelly of so much extra work but also to help the church community connect with its musicians and to prevent the services from being flagged as copyright violations.

Depending on the program used to create the performance videos, production can be quick or it can take hours to get everything just right.  Many of the solo performances that Ruben and I have recorded are done with just the camera on our phone, but with multiple performers in multiple locations, that isn’t possible. The Acapella app for Apple products has been useful in collaborating; it allows for a number of performers to add their videos one at a time to create a performance. However, the app only works on Apple products, so anyone who doesn’t use an iPhone or iPad (like myself) can’t participate. UUCW has purchased the “premium” version of the app on the church iPad; this is how I’ve made the video hymn recordings of myself playing on one side of the screen and singing on the other.

There are, of course, other video compilation and editing programs, which have been used by the very talented Kelly Bognar, Hayley German-Fisher, Linda Meurer, and Natalie Fleury. For the Kaleidoscope worship band performances, Daniel Wiebe uses audio editing software to balance the sound levels of the performance; pursuing this high level of production inspired Daniel to go to school for audio engineering.  And Kaleidoscope’s parody song “Hit Me with Your Covid Shot” won first place in a virtual talent show for the ‘Society of Teachers of Family Medicine’ Annual meeting! All of that extra work is unique to pre-recorded performances; for in-person services, we do a soundcheck before the service to set the microphone levels ahead of time and then the musicians can just make their beautiful music.

I cannot thank enough the people who are savvy in those programs for their hard work, volunteered time, and keeping our music program at the highest quality during this unprecedented time. As we prepare in the coming months to return to in-person worship, the music program will continue to evolve as safety protocols evolve. There isn’t a date set in stone that tells us when the choir will be able to sing in person again, or when we will be able to lift our voices together to sing hymns in the sanctuary. But through the talent and dedication of our musicians, the music will continue to be meaningful and, I hope, bring light and love to your heart.

Jennifer Nicolosi