When COVID-19 disrupted university life in March last year, C. Leonard Raybon, associate professor of music, director of choirs and The Virginia Beer Professor in Singing in the Newcomb Department of Music, was left wondering how to wrap up a semester that otherwise focused on group choral performance.
The answer lay in a virtual choir, an artistic feat of technology that calls for multiple people to make solo, a cappella videos. Raybon later compiled the videos into a composite video with the voices mixed as a chorus, the videos tiled so that all of the participants can be seen, and graphics and lyrics added for visual interest and clarity.
That effort, “Good Night, Dear Heart,” sung by the Tulane-Newcomb Choir and dedicated to the lives lost to COVID-19, amassed more than 10,000 views on YouTube.
But it wasn’t till George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis in May that Raybon conceived an original song and then set to work having it performed, also by a virtual choir. The result, called “Build a Song,” brought together scores of singers, some of them Tulane students and many of them volunteers whom Raybon knew outside of Tulane. It also ended up being the culminating project for the Tulane-Newcomb Choir’s fall 2020 class.
“I don’t feel presumptuous enough to make these big, sweeping pronouncements about Black Lives Matter — but I wanted to write something to recognize privilege, speak as an ally, and encourage other White people to do the same,” said Raybon.
“In my world great griefs are swarming: Hurt, injustice, damage, pain,” the song opens. “In my heart a song is forming: Hopeful verses, bright refrain.”
“Build a Song” recognizes the healing and unifying power of music and employs lyrics that call for inclusiveness. The refrain asks listeners to “sing to draw each other in.”
Raybon used three separate programs to create the final product: audio mixing software, video editing software and a graphics illustrator. The new initiative is now part of the curriculum, for the time being, anyway. Raybon is using virtual choirs to teach practical vocal skills this spring.