Artists of the Month august 2020: Cantiamo

Singing Together While Apart

There have been quite a few videos that have been published in recent months within Australia and around the world of people joining together to provide songs and concerts to cheer the spirits of those in isolation or in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, one of the first instances of rallying community spirit was the images and voices of Italian people beamed around the world as they would gather on their balconies to fill suddenly silent and empty streets with their voices.

Even in Australia professional entertainers have joined to create music together.

Locally we have an excellent a capella group Cantiamo who have also decided to keep on keeping on. A cappella music is group or solo performance without instrumental accompaniment, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. The term a cappella was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concertato style. Some scholars state that a cappella could be as old as man itself. Research suggests that singing and vocables may have been what early humans used to communicate before the invention of language. The earliest piece of sheet music is thought to have originated from times as early as 2000 B.C. while the earliest that has survived in its entirety is from the first century A.D.: a piece from Greece called the Seikilos epitaph.

The word a cappella is Italian for '"in the manner of the chapel".

The word Cantiamo is from the Latin cantāre - meaning to chant, to sing, and as a verb, as it is a verb, 'let's sing'!

The current leader of the Cantiamo group is Richard Griffiths who explained the current group started in 2005 after a similar choir finished with some of the founding members forming this one – Cantiamo. 

The members started meeting on Wednesday mornings and sing primarily for their own enjoyment.

They perform concerts at retirement villages and nursing homes and have, in the past, been able to use St. David’s church at Dee Why and return that favour by providing a concert for the church. However, under current circumstances, and while New South Wales was in lockdown, those meetings were suspended.

These are all smaller intimate performances for small audiences – and they will stay that way. 

''All choirs were and have been suspended at present,'' Richard explained this week, ‘There are many studies that show when you project the voice you actually project that air from your lungs a long way and with it, any germs that many be in that air.

Thus the ‘’Singing Together While Apart" video process was commenced as we wanted to keep singing together but to stay safe while doing so.’’

‘Our membership has an average age of 75, some are younger, some are older – and we currently have 11 members.’

What they sing

‘Our songs fall into three categories – we sing a lot of Renaissance music, songs from the 1800’s on – Mendelssohn and the like, as well as a smaller repertoire of more contemporary pieces.

We have also joined up with the Avalon Beach Upbeat Choir started by Roz Saunders. Upbeat is a choir for stroke survivors and other people who have or are recovering from an illness which is affecting their speech. We sing with them at their Christmas Concert each year ion the old Scout Hall at Dunbar Park – a building with good acoustics that suits this music. 

The Christmas program is half Carols and we also sing music that people may not have heard of, Carols among these, for the other half of each annual concert.''

More at: https://www.facebook.com/UpbeatChoir/

''At each concert, whether meeting together, pre Covid times in each other’s homes, or performing in retirement homes of villages, we sing what we like.  The members put forward ideas and then we work on them together. Some sing in other choirs and will bring in ideas from these. 

I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved – there is a great esprit de corps among the members, while the shift towards doing this while separated and then sharing those works has created a mini-community and hopefully brought a smile to those we cannot sing to in person at present. 

I cannot emphasise what Kevin Murray’s work in putting all this together so that we are able to do what we’re doing even under current constraints has given us and others. We can still sing together, jointly, even while separated. 

We began doing this through Zoom but then Kevin worked with us to use voice recording programs and programs such as Dropbox – in fact there has been a bit of ‘techie stuff’ and as a result I now know things I didn’t know a year ago.’’

Kevin Murray, July 2020 Artist of the Month, kindly sent us an outline of the steps he took to create these music videos.

''I first created a series of Guide Tracks from a MIDI file, one for each part, Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. I used Cakewalk to create and edit the MIDI files, but almost any MIDI editor will do. I also added a MIDI metronome backing for each part, but only if the song had a fixed rhythm. I converted these MIDIs to mp3s by playing the MIDI tracks and recording them in Audacity. I then emailed them to each of the nine choir members. Each singer received a Guide Track mp3 with their part prominent and the other parts at half volume beneath.

The singer's task was to audio-record themselves singing their part on one device while listening to the relevant Guide Track mp3 in their headphones, usually plugged into another device. They then emailed their audio recording to me to be incorporated into the final, combined audio (using Audacity). This task was made much easier because of the consistency of the Guide Tracks helping the singers with their timing and pitch. Once all of the audios were in, I spent quite some time getting the balance right between (and within) all of the parts... no easy task when they were all recorded on different devices with different levels - and at different quality.

I then recorded a full-screen video of each choir member separately via Zoom, singing once more to their relevant Guide Track - I discarded this audio and just kept the video. Each video was then aligned with the combined audio created earlier and placed in a matrix template I had created in Sony Movie Studio. Once again, the consistency of the Guide Tracks helped when aligning the videos to the audio. I did all the titles, cropping, scrolling lyrics, special effects, etc. in Sony Movie Studio.

As we all became more used to the various technologies involved, we tried to bypass the inconsistent video quality resulting from recording over Zoom, and each of the singers became skilled at video-recording themselves and sending me their video via Dropbox. The videos used in our last two songs were recorded in this way, thus avoiding the vagaries of recording video over the internet.

The final step was to publish on YouTube.''

For all of August 2020, and if you visit Kevin's website (http://kbmurray.com/and look under Music after then, we hope you enjoy the superlative voices of our own Northern Beaches Cantiamo Choir:

Avalon Concert, Dec 2018

Featuring The Upbeat Choir and Cantiamo.

Singing Together While Apart - Signum

Singing Together While Apart - Pastyme With Good Company

Being isolated hasn't stopped the Cantiamo singers from harmonising together. This time singing Henry VIII's Pastyme With Good Company.

Singing Together While Apart - As Torrents in Summer

Another Virtual Choir piece from the Sydney a capella group, Cantiamo. This time featuring the beautiful harmonies of Elgar's As Torrents in Summer.

Singing Together While Apart - Ave Maria

Cantiamo sings Ave Maria by Jacques Arcadelt (1504-1568).

Singing Together While Apart - Capriciata a tre voci

A capella group, Cantiamo, performing Capriciata a tre voci, by Adriano Banchieri (1567-1634).

Singing Together While Apart - Oculi Omnium

While restricted to their separate homes, the members of Sydney a capella group, Cantiamo, sing Charles Wood's beautiful Oculi Omnium.

Singing Together While Apart - My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land

This beautiful Elgar piece is Cantiamo's most ambitious project yet. Each audio and video was recorded in isolation before being edited together into an harmonic whole.

Singing Together While Apart - Tshotsholoza

Cantiamo's latest attempt at singing together while apart... "Tshotshaloza", the word, was derived from the onomatopoeic & repetitive sound of the train wheels transporting the migrant workers back to their families in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Tshotsholoza has become a national traditional song in South Africa which was sung for the first time by the South African fans during the 1995 IRB Rugby World Cup.

Singing Together While Apart - Siyahamba

A traditional African song... clearly meant to be sung as a group, but at least Cantiamo's voices can come together even if the singers still cannot!

Singing Together While Apart - The Water of Tyne

Cantiamo's tenth music video... this time with a piano accompaniment. The Water of Tyne (sometimes rendered as The Waters of Tyne) is a folk song (Roud number 1364) from the north-east of England. The song was collected by John Bell in 1810 and published two years later in Rhymes of Northern Bards, page 241.

Singing Together While Apart - Bonjour Mon Coeur

Another song in Cantiamo's extensive repertoire... this one in French.