Welcome to this exciting project. Together, for the first-ever Fulbright Chorus performance, we will be making an extraordinary video. You’ll be joining a virtual chorus composed of Fulbrighters across the world, adding your voice to the beautiful song “MLK” by U2. This video will make its debut in Washington DC on March 31st, at the ceremony for the Fulbright Prize for International Understanding. This year, the prize goes to Bono, the lead singer of U2 and the co-founder of ONE and (RED). At this event, which Bono will attend, he will see this video!
I’ll be conducting you via (recorded) video. I am a singer, arranger, and owner of Gotham Studios, a video production company in Washington DC. The past two years have given us the opportunity to produce some really interesting and fun virtual-music videos.
This song is different than most U2 songs. As you can hear for yourself, it floats chorally, without any beat. It is a short, simple elegy to Martin Luther King. The beautiful arrangement is by British composer Bob Chilcott.
To make this video, go to the recording page, where you’ll have everything you need to record: you can read the music, follow my conducting, and record on your webcam as you sing along with a recording in your headphones. When you’re done, you’ll be able to upload your file from this page too.
Our editor will take all these videos, sync them up, balance the audio, and place the video. The result will be a screen filled with dozens of angelic faces, sometimes accompanying our soloist and sometimes carrying the song as a group.
Background. Please sing with a plain, light-colored wall behind you. Get decent light on your face – facing a window is ideal, if you can simultaneously show the background you want. If it’s impractical to have a plain wall behind you, and need to show a room, pick an angle with as little clutter as possible. Don’t backlight (no windows or lamps behind you in the shot). For audio, soft surfaces like upholstery and curtains are good, as they absorb echoes.
Wardrobe. Feel free to wear what you like–Fulbright is about diversity.
Earphones. We should not hear the playback audio in your recording. Wear discreet ear buds, either in one or both ears. And tuck any wires behind your head instead of dangling in front.
Microphone? If you have a usb or plug-in mic, great! Connect it to your video device (phone or laptop). It will sound much better than your laptop mic.
Eve Level. Low-angle shots (where the camera is looking up at you), although popular on Zoom, are not flattering unless you like chins and nostrils. So, whether you’re standing or sitting, put the camera at eye level or just a bit lower – that’s the most natural and engaging angle. I know this can be hard to achieve, because it might need to be in a random place in the middle of a room in front of the perfect wall… but the eye-line is important. Prop your laptop on a stack of books, on a desk, or coffee or card table.
If you’re using a phone, you can use a tripod or ring light with a phone holder, or put your device on a shelf, step ladder, music stand, or strap it to a mic stand. The phone may need to tilt forward: some tricks are to use rubber bands to keep it back, or lean it forward against a soup can.
Framing: Do a “head shot” – just your head and shoulders. Don’t chop off the top of your head – make sure you have “head room” – a little space between your head and the top of the frame.
Audio: Clean audio is really important and will make our job easier. You shouldn’t be in a room with lots of ambient noise (like air conditioning, or a fridge, or an open window) or if you’re more than 2 feet away. Before you start recording, turn off your air conditioner.
Lighting: Make sure your face is well-lit. It reduces grain, fills in wrinkles, and makes you look younger! Soft, diffuse natural light from a window is great. But even that can be supplemented with lights in front of you. (If you really want to “up” your game, get a ring-light-phone-holder-tripod for under $50.) If you wear glasses, avoid the glare of the light in your lenses… or don’t wear them.
Follow my cues. To the listener, the rhythm sounds freeform. But we can structure it in measures of 5/4, 6/4 and 4/4. Follow me and I’ll cue your entrances: basses/tenors on the left and altos/sopranos on the right.
Eye contact. Try to keep eye contact close to the camera.
Breathing. Pick a random breathing point on the long held notes—we want a continuous drone for a long time. Don’t breathe where that drone changes chords—let’s make those chord changes seamless.
Somber on first half, smile on 2nd half (singing words). You are comforting Martin Luther King, telling him to sleep, and may his “dreams” be realized. Bring all your warm compassion to this lovely thought and let it show in your face.
Extend all notes to the end, and extend final consonants to the following words. Especially the passage “Dream….s’be realized.” Connect s to d.
Dynamics. In the quiet parts (beginning and ending), sing tenderly but not too soft, about mf (mezzo-forte)—we will control volume in the edit, and we need your mic to pick you up. However, let’s hit the word “Thundercloud” with ff (fortissimo). It’s the climax of the piece. Then gradually decrescendo back to the end.
At the end, hold eye contact and stay still for five beats after the final cutoff. I’ll cue when you can break off eye contact.