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The Drive-In Rehearsal: Singing Safely During the Pandemic

Somerset Hills Harmony Chorus and the Drive-In Rehearsal

An innovative solution to singing together safely during the pandemic.

When someone asks me what the Somerset Hills Harmony (SHH) chorus has been up to during the pandemic, I tell them that we’ve been singing. That would seem normal -- I mean, we are a chorus -- but nothing is normal these days. Despite that, the chorus has been very active and engaged with online rehearsals on Zoom, with new songs, new friends and even producing new virtual choir videos (coming soon to a social media feed near you)! But we have to admit that it’s not the same experience as being with your friends in harmony making a beautiful sound together.

So SHH leadership sought out a solution. We checked out online solutions to tackle latency to allow for synchronous singing, such as Jamulus and BandLab. Unfortunately, it was a bit too tough to get dozens of people online, especially with many who were uncomfortable with technology.

How about gathering outdoors in a large area with lots of space between singers and wearing masks or more space and not wearing masks? Upon further consideration, we thought it would be hard to breathe doing that for any length of time and difficult to hear each other very well, almost like singing solo. Some had concerns about the safety and possibility of transmission. And ultimately, it doesn’t seem like it would fill our hearts with harmony, not to mention that it’s weather dependent.

We needed a solution to potentially get us through the cold winter months, that would give a true sense of harmonization and that would make our singers comfortable and feel safe.

Enter the drive-in rehearsal

In July we came across a video of a church choir in Massachusetts singing in their cars that blew our minds. The Denneys have been hard at work perfecting the driveway rehearsal and sharing what they have learned with groups like ours. Having some sound engineering experience in our group, we sprang into action. Sourcing used gear from our basements and accepting donations from generous people in the area, we were ready for a proof of concept in less than a week.

Six singers – and BOOM – HARMONY! A simple solution of wired microphones, dusty analog sound mixing consoles and a FM transmitter. It worked perfectly. A week later we doubled it to a beta test of 12 singers – even better. Then it was time for a full chorus rehearsal. About half of our members ventured out, many skeptical that it was as safe as we said it would be, or skeptical that it would be a fulfilling musical experience. Over two dozen singers joined and we received a resounding response that they felt safe and thoroughly enjoyed singing together again for the first time in over five months.

We have it – for us, the practical solution to singing. We have adjusted to a balance of drive-in rehearsals and online Zoom rehearsals. We focus our music program to the strengths of each medium, such as using Zoom for sectionals and digging into arrangements and drive-ins for intensive musical work, such as balancing parts and adding artistry. We are moving our craft forward, using all those months of great training from worldwide experts in singing to now make music once again. Next up – recordings and performances, literally taking the show on the road, investments into better equipment and greater efficiency and safety in running our drive-in rehearsals. SHH is in position to make music together through the pandemic and no matter the weather.

You can do this, too!

Somerset Hills Harmony is spreading the word. Just as we were inspired by the Denneys, we hope to inspire choruses all over the world to check out the drive-in rehearsal approach. It won’t be for everyone, such as groups in cities or with a large number of singers (though the technique does not have limits in capacity).

We will be hosting webinars to talk about our experience and lessons learned. We have started a Facebook group, “Hot Rods and Harmony,” as a watercooler to share experiences and ask questions. We have been a resource to nearby choruses to see the drive in rehearsal for themselves, and even to help get them set up.

Humanity prevails in times like these – and the arts are the perfect embodiment of that humanity. We are only sad we didn’t come up with this solution sooner!

Session One: Introduction to the Drive-In Rehearsal

with Manny Lopez, Christian Hunter, and Charlie Ross

With simple wired microphones, a $50 used sound board and good old FM radio, these choruses are THRIVING by singing in their cars! It’s like having a collection of personal sound studios that pops up in a parking lot.

Ideal for all chorus leaders and members interested in learning about the rehearsal approach. Consider tuning in to the webcast during your chorus Zoom rehearsal!

Download Webinar PowerPoint presentation (pdf)

Session Two: Drive-In Rehearsals - Technical Session

with Manny Lopez, Rob France, and Bryce Denney

So you want to run a drive-in rehearsal but you aren't quite sure what is involved to get the sound going? Maybe you know your way around a sound booth but want to hone in on the most efficient way to make a rehearsal work in a parking lot. Learn from the experiences of the teams that have run wired and wireless solutions for several choruses, even accompanied. Find out what gear they used and recommend, tips and tricks and learn from their mistakes! The one hour presentation will be followed by Q&A.

Ideal for chorus leaders and members that want to learn about what equipment is needed, set up and operation of sound tech for the drive-in rehearsal.

Download Webinar PowerPoint Presentation (pdf)

Session Three: Drive-In Rehearsals - Making Music in Sedans and SUVs

with Manny Lopez, Charlie Ross, and Matthew Marinelli

Putting a choir in cars is a big leap forward from our online experiences, but how do you get the best sound possible under the circumstances? The basics of posture and good tone production are made more challenging when sitting in a Prius or Cadillac. Strong mic technique, which most choral singers haven’t experienced, may be the biggest opportunity for success. Musical leaders will cover ideas and techniques for making the best music possible in this interesting new environment.

Ideal for chorus musical leaders (directors, section leaders, music vice presidents) who want to learn how to use this rehearsal technique most effectively.

Download Webinar PowerPoint Presentation (pdf)

SESSION FOUR: Drive-In Rehearsals - Leading the Way in Chorus Safety and Success

with Manny Lopez, Christian Hunter, Don Staffin, and Rob France

The drive-in rehearsal is a popular option because it offers a live singing solution while keeping singers in the comfortable environs of their own car. Steps still need to be taken to raise the safety level as high as possible through health screening, sanitizing and being vigilant about social distancing. What are the approaches other choirs have taken to keep singers and audiences safe?

PLUS: What does it take to actually run a rehearsal? We’ll cover the flow of the day and planning, roles and responsibilities for volunteer helpers and a step by step approach to a rehearsal. Chorus leaders will also discuss what this enables our ensembles to do now that we are out of our homes and mobilized.

Ideal for chorus leaders and members who will be instrumental in implementing a drive-in rehearsal approach as well as show chairpersons and creative teams who can apply the same approach to performances and shows.

Download Webinar PowerPoint presentation (pdf)