My Choral Coach – Match My Sound review11:40, 3rd November 2020
In the November issue of MT, Dale Wills road-tested Match My Sound’s new online choral trainer in light of the current need to rehearse apart. Here’s the verdict on My Choral Coach
I miss choral singing. For anyone who knows me, that sentence is possibly the last thing you would expect to hear. Having ranted about the iniquities and foibles of choral singers for years, you might expect me to be enjoying this enforced break from all things choir.
What I miss (and stitching together several choral videos from individual recordings has only underlined this) is the nuances of tuning, blend, articulation; all those tiny details that separate a choir from a group of singers.
We quickly discovered, when creating lockdown videos of school choirs, that while the singers can (eventually!) replicate the correct notes and rhythms without hearing their fellow choristers, even creating some sense of basic musical ensemble was tricky. Do you put the consonant or the vowel on the downbeat? How does everyone colour that vowel? Is the final fricative long and expressive, or short and neat?
Having run choirs of different levels of musical literacy for most of my working life – I still recall making rehearsal tapes for my first choir – I had thought that I had come across every possible solution for online choral learning. Would My Choral Coach from Match My Sound offer any surprises, or would this be another series of videos, with audio of various quality running alongside scrolling notation?
My Choral Coach can be accessed either as a web version or an app. The product is aimed at both individual note-learning, and rehearsing. We spent a week playing with the web version, and both the iPad and Android apps, and are happy to report that the experience was identical between all three. The set-up is fairly painless: login, follow the menu to your section, click, and record. Options and hidden menus are kept to a minimum, making the site easily navigable by even the most technophobic of our trial group.
For anyone familiar with online choral trainers, the first surprise will be the facility to upload your own repertoire. Although the site does come preloaded with a range of repertoire, and the partnership with GIA Publishing and the American Choral Directors’ Association will doubtless see this list expand quickly.
For choral directors, the set-up could scarcely be more streamlined; click on ‘My Repertoire’, drag your rehearsal files to ‘Create Audio Files’, drag scores to ‘Load Score’, and then the site will email either your entire choir, or individual singers and/or sections as you wish.
For the singer, this is where the real magic of this app kicks in. Rather than passively singing along to a sound file, My Choral Coach allows for simple play, rewind, change tempo, and record of your practice session. The inbuilt tuning feature will then highlight any disparities between your performance and the audio file which you are working to.
In the interests of fairness, we trialled this feature with two of my willing students; one, a former head chorister with perfect pitch, and one a pianist who would describe themselves as a singer only under extreme duress.
Both of my volunteers reported that the feedback function provided an accurate and almost instantaneous report of any inaccuracies in their performance. Particularly useful was an indicator showing how far from the target pitch each attempt was.
But there is more to a good performance than simply recreating pitches and rhythms in a predetermined order. This is where My Choral Coach steps up to the next level. Each practice session is captured by the singer’s mobile device or computer. Once each singer is happy with their performance, they can submit the audio file into a virtual performance. Other singers can then record their performance to this performance, building up a virtual response which allows singers to respond to one another, almost like a physical performance.
The site also links up with Zoom for individual or group coaching sessions. The app includes a concise, but long overdue, guide on getting the best out of Zoom audio. Cuing backing tracks through the app does allow for the possibility of a ‘virtual sectional’ or even a ‘virtual rehearsal’. Our attempts at this were still subject to the iniquities of internet connections and audio latency, but did make for a fun, and remarkably productive evening.
The app is aimed at, and currently only available to, university, community and worship choirs. The impressive range of audio tools in the rehearsal and recording session may take some guidance for the less tech-savvy members of your group, although for university students, the dashboard layout will feel all too familiar.
For a final test, we used the app to create a virtual performance of our own. The facility to sing to previous singers’ performances did seem to result in a more musically satisfying result. From my perspective, managing files, tasks and workflow, and messaging my mini-choir through a single app saved time, energy and gave us a sense of cohesion as a choral group, which we haven’t felt for some time. That alone is worth the subscription fee. MT
Currently available to university, community and worship choirs. The price includes two elements: a $100 annual fee for the choir director and a $10 annual seat license for each choir member. Available through the American Choral Directors Association.