Making music together, while staying apart

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By Cindy Zomar, Contributing Writer

Bryce Denney plays the keyboard at the base of his driveway as choral members sing along in their cars.
Photo/submitted

Marlborough For Marlborough residents Kathryn and Bryce Denney, music is not only in their blood, sometimes it’s in the driveway as well. Starting in June, the Denneys have hosted a musical event almost every week, most often from their own driveway. 

Bryce was majoring in piano and physics and Kathryn in French horn and voice when they met as students at Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Today, he is an electrical engineer and she is a musical theater director and their passion for choral music is strong. 

“When the pandemic hit, we gave an online recital with our children, and we organized a virtual choir for my main theater group,” Kathryn said. “Virtual choirs are moderately fun, but each participant’s total involvement is about three minutes of recording themselves, alone, singing a song that is then put together by the video editor. That was fun for Bryce, the video editor, but we could all feel that it lacked the human connection of making music together, in real time.” 

Kathryn Denney conducts a choral group sitting in their cars from her driveway. Photo/Cindy Zomar

She added that while Zoom meetings are great for face-to-face conversations, there is such a delay that it’s impossible to sing together. 

“We already had some experience recording with mics, mixers, and computers, so we decided to try four singers in cars using headsets first. We did this twice, and made videos documenting it,” she explained. 

The participants are directed to tune their car radios to a particular unused radio station so they can sing along on their mics and be heard by the others.

The Denneys called on some of Kathryn’s colleagues from a professional choir, Labyrinth, as they experimented with getting it all to work. Word spread, first among personal friends, and then through Facebook. The total number of participants is only limited by the number of microphones and ports they have, currently standing at 24. 

Bryce is quick to share that while entertaining, there are some challenges involved. 

“The Driveway Choir project is both exciting and exhausting. This made it possible to play piano and sing with other people safely, at a time when people are saying it isn’t possible,” he said. “I really believe that we are helping the musical community by trying things and writing down what works (and doesn’t).” 

Kathryn agreed. 

“We are helping other people enjoy music, we are keeping ourselves busy, and getting an outlet for our creative energy.  If we were doing this only for ourselves, we would not have taken so much time documenting the experience or building an ever-simpler system that is portable, affordable, and user-friendly. We want choir directors and choral singers to see that they have options,” she said. 

The Denneys are inviting choirs of all types who are planning their next season using this type of technology to visit their website at http://www.thedenneys.org/pub/music/driveway-choir

and watch the videos, particularly the technical details. They would also be happy to answer questions. 

Said Kathryn: “The joy of making music together is something that singers of all levels have been longing for ever since we were shut down in March.”