On New Year’s Eve, 2020, ‘yn un rhith – a choir still’ won an highly commended award in the ‘Lockdown project – choir’ category of the Classical Music Digital Awards 2020. This live-streamed event celebrated the efforts of classical music practitioners and organisations to respond positively to the challenges of 2020, and shone a light on numerous digital music projects and innovations, whilst raising money for Help Musicians.
We are delighted to have received this award, and that a project inspired by the efforts of two community choirs to support and keep their members singing together has received this recognition.
This website was originally made to help members of Côr ABC and Côr Dinas while we were creating our virtual performance of yn un rhith. Having made and released our virtual choir performances, we are opening the website up to help other choirs who would like to produce their own virtual performances of the piece.
If you would like to make your own version, we would be delighted, and very much hope that this website will help to guide you through the process. In exchange, we would ask you
to let us know you are doing the piece;
to use the accompaniment track provided;
to share your completed virtual choir video with us, so that we can share it with others and so that we might be able to join them all together at some point in the future; and
to not perform the piece to a live audience before we have had the chance to arrange a first live performance ourselves!
We really look forward to hearing your virtual performances and hope that you will find everything you need here (except, perhaps, for a video editor to put the whole thing together for you, of course!).
If, having looked over everything on the site, you would like your choir to take part, here are the next steps for you to take.
Firstly, you will want to make sure you have found someone who knows what they are doing with video editing to put everything together for you at the end, or to be ready to follow the learning curve and put the time into producing this yourself. There are quite a few helpful videos online giving guidance about how to do it.
Once you have lined that up, you will need to email your singers with the correct videos to sing, and possibly to suggest they follow the warm-ups and guidance on the site. Also, it would probably be a good idea to listen to the piece as sung by Côr ABC and Côr Dinas, and as read by Dafydd John Pritchard, so that you can align your pronunciation of the words with ours.
Whilst your singers are learning their parts, you or whoever is going to do the video editing should set up some way of gathering all of their videos together, and also download the accompaniment track so that you can load that in to play alongside your choir videos.
Once you have got your choir’s videos in, you or the video editor will need to edit them all together and to add the accompaniment track into the mix. Once all that’s done, you will be able to upload it to a video sharing site and share it with the world! In an exciting near-parallel of live performance we used a YouTube première for our performance, to gather together an audience at the same time.
Finally, share the video with us, let us know it is happening, and we’ll do our bit to let people know and include you in the wider project.
Although we cannot offer to help you significantly with this, please do get in touch if you feel there are any major steps that we have missed.
If you are a singer approaching singing in a virtual choir for the first time, this quick guide might help you.
what is a virtual choir?
It is probably worth outlining what we mean when we talk about ‘virtual choirs’ and ‘virtual choir performances’.
Creating a ‘virtual choir performance’ normally involves three main stages.
A small team produces materials for the whole choir to work with. These include a specific video for each section of the choir to sing in time with when they are recording.
The members of the choir practise with this pre-prepared video and, when ready, film themselves singing alongside it.
The members then send the video of themselves singing back to the central team, and the videos are then edited together to produce a ‘virtual choir performance’.
In this instance, you will be sending your videos along to the person designated by your choir director through a method arranged by them.
There are a few things to think about before you begin the process of learning your part and filming yourself, and the first is probably to make sure you have everything at your disposal for learning and recording the piece.
Whilst we hope that this will not prevent anyone from taking part, there are a few things that you will need in order to film yourself singing:
a pair of headphones connected to
a device for watching the video and singing along with it (eg, a laptop or a tablet), and, preferably,
a separate device for filming yourself singing (eg, a camera or the camera on your phone set to video),
some means of holding the filming device steady and in landscape orientation, not portrait (eg, a stand or another person); and,
a little time and patience – just like learning and performing any new piece of music, this will take a little effort to get right.
You should not need to purchase any special equipment, software, or apps to film yourselves. It is worth mentioning that, if you only have one device for both filming and listening, it might still be possible to work around that.
Do take a look at the ‘recording‘ page for some basic guidance on how to film yourselves.
learning, singing and sending
Once you have made sure that you have everything you need, spend some time getting to know the piece before you have a go at filming it. Here is a suggested order, but do feel free to skip any steps you do not feel are relevant to you and do read through before beginning!
Optional step: If you find it useful, you can download the score of the piece from the ‘downloads‘ page to help you get used to it. Remember that you do not need to do this unless you really want to, as you will be following the music on the screen as you practise and film yourself!
If you are going to record yourself, have a look at the ‘recording‘ page and set up your gear before you begin singing.
When you are ready to sing,
Visit the ‘warming up‘ page and get your voice moving a little;
Go to the page for your part (make sure you have the right one as there are two versions of the piece – one for a choir of upper voices and one for a mixed choir!) and watch the video for your part all the way through, thinking along with your singing line. This will give you an idea of how it will all feel and an opportunity to get used to singing along;
Go back and sing along with the singing section of the video a few times. When you feel uncertain about a passage, pause the film and go back over that part again;
When you feel you have nailed down the notes reasonably well, hit record on your camera;
Good luck! Don’t feel frustrated with yourself if you have to have a few goes, as this is a completely normal part of the process;
When you have a good take, send it in using the method agreed with your choir director!
Aberystwyth based mixed choir, Côr ABC, and the London Welsh women’s choir, Côr Dinas, have been working together on a virtual choir project to produce the first performance of a new piece written during the first few weeks of lockdown by composer, Andrew Cusworth.
Weekly choral rehearsals had come to an abrupt end back in March as COVID-19 spread around the world and governments introduced restrictions on all aspects of daily life. In response to this, Côr ABC and Côr Dinas began to meet and rehearse virtually, enabling their members not only to continue to sing and make music, but also to maintain their social connections. These virtual rehearsals proved to be an inspiration for a new piece and a virtual choir project.
After one of Côr ABC’s rehearsals, choir member and crowned bard, Dafydd John Pritchard, wrote an englyn about the experience and posted it on Twitter. Fellow choir member and conductor of Côr Dinas, Andrew Cusworth, saw the poem and set it to music for both choirs to sing together virtually.
Speaking about his new piece, yn un rhith, Andrew said: “The piece, based on Dafydd’s poem, sings of how, albeit set apart by events, we are still united in our aims, as a community, in singing – of how we are still a choir.”
Members of both choirs have been filmed themselves singing the piece, and all those individual videos were edited together to create a virtual choir performance by Robert Russell, who also accompanied the choirs in the performance.
Describing the aim of the project, Gwennan Williams, conductor of Côr ABC, said: “Our hope, as a team who put the project together, was to create an enjoyable experience for our members, and something that we can all look back on, at some point in the future, as a reminder of something positive to come out of difficult times.”
The first performance of yn un rhith by the combined choir of Côr ABC and Côr Dinas was given in a YouTube première. The choirs also sang, separately, mixed choir and upper voices versions of the piece.
Now that these videos are completed, the project is being opened to other choirs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Côr Dinas is the women’s choir of the London Welsh and is conducted by Andrew Cusworth. It is a close community of singers that performs frequently in a wide range of concerts, services, and competitions.
Dafydd is a poet who won the Crown at the National Eisteddfod in Bro Dinefwr in 1996. He has published two volumes of poetry; dim ond deud (Barddas, 2006) and Lôn Fain (Barddas, 2013). He competes in BBC Radio Cymru’s Talwrn y Beirdd as a member of the Cŵps team and in the National Eisteddfod’s Ymryson y Beirdd as a member of the Ceredigion team. He was chair of Barddas for five years and is a regular reviewer. He works at the National Library of Wales.
Dafydd wrote the englyn set to music in this piece.
Robert Russell is an Australian-born composer living in the UK. He predominantly writes music for musicals, video games and rock bands, but can also be seen accompanying choirs (including Côr Dinas), recording singers and teaching mathematics.
Robert has been responsible for producing all of the videos associated with this project, as well as providing the piano accompaniment for the virtual performance.
Gwennan Williams is a musician who is passionate about choral music and community music-making. She holds a joint honours degree in music and German from the University of Birmingham. She has conducted Côr ABC since 2013. She won the Conductor of the Festival prize at Gŵyl Fawr Aberteifi in 2018.
Gwennan sang for all of the female parts of the instructional videos.
Andrew Cusworth is an academic, conductor, and award-winning composer who is currently an 1851 Research Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. He is the conductor of Côr Dinas and a member of Côr ABC.
Andrew wrote the music to set Dafydd’s englyn and can be seen conducting the virtual performance.
One of the many reasons that we sing in choirs is for the positive effect it has on our mental health. Beyond the well-known benefits of group singing, choirs are micro-communities united by the urge to make music; choirs are made up of often diverse people who share experiences, support each other, and enjoy the social side of choral music as well as the singing itself. During the lock-down, choirs have had to find new ways of continuing to gather not only for musical reasons but for social and community ones, and as a means of raising the spirits of their members, staying in touch, and looking out for one another. With all of these positive things and the community-driven background to the project in mind, we would like to draw attention to the importance of music in our lives, and during what is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, in our human wellbeing.
So, if you have enjoyed finding out about, listening to or participating in our project, and if you are in a position to do so, why not consider making a donation to a mental health or musical charity near you.
Below are the two scores and the accompaniment track for the project, which will help to familiarise yourself with the music. If you are a singer and don’t have a printer or means of viewing the score whilst singing with the videos, don’t worry, as we suggest that you simply sing reading the notes as they appear on the videos rather than holding a score.
Terms and conditions of download and use. These scores are intended to help in the production of virtual choir videos during the COVID-19 epidemic and are not for use beyond the project. The piece may not be performed or recorded or otherwise made use of outside the project without first seeking permission. When creating your own virtual choir video, you agree that you will use the accompaniment track provided, that you will notify us of your participation, that you will make your virtual choir video freely available, that you will acknowledge the project’s contributors (music by Andrew Cusworth, words by Dafydd Pritchard, accompanied by Robert Russell), and that you will send us your video for potential use in relation to the project. To notify us of your use of the piece and/or to request permission to perform the piece, please contact Andrew Cusworth at email@example.com. By downloading these files you agree to respect these terms.
We know that not everyone who wants to sing this piece will be entirely familiar with the Welsh language, but we would encourage you to think of it like singing a piece in any other language such as Latin, German, French, Russian, Italian, or, indeed, English!
We would suggest a multi-dimensional approach: listen to Dafydd reading his englyn to get an idea of how the poem flows in and of itself; then, listen to Gwennan Williams, director of Côr ABC, speaking the words of the poem more closely to their appearance in the score, including some of the repeated phrases (below); listen to the video of Côr ABC and Côr Dinas singing the piece as you look through the score to get a sense of how the words are sung; and use the phonetic guidance (below) to get a stronger sense of how the sounds relate to English.
A reading of the words
Here is Gwennan Williams reading the text more closely to the way it appears in the score, with some of the repeated words and phrases.
Phonetic comparisons for English-speakers
Before going further, it is probably worth noting that English comes in many flavours of accent, and the following guide for English-speakers is given using what would commonly be considered received pronunciation, or BBC, English.
Welsh is a phonetic language, for the most part, and so once you know how its alphabet and diphthongs work, it is relatively straightforward to sing. The letters and sounds used in the text of yn un rhith are as follows:
a – as in Paris or parade â – as in barn or arm b – as in babble or bumble d – as in dog or dated dd – voiced, as in the or soothe (not thorough or teeth) e – as in egg or energy f – voiced fricative, as in very or move g – as in get or fog h – unvoiced aspirate, as in happy or behold i – as in need or beam ll – unvoiced lateral (sides of tongue) fricative – as in Llanelli n – as in nut or undo or bun o – as in not or orange ô – as in oar or fore or ‘law‘ oe – diphthong as in loiter or void p – as in plate or trap r – is voice and rolled rh – is unvoiced and rolled with an aspiration th – unvoiced, as in thorough or wreath u – as in need or indeed w – is contextual, either as in food, or, as in good y is contextual: – alone, at beginning, or in middle of word – as in undone or run – at end of word – as in sit or coming, or as in need or indeed
The poem in English phonetics
With all that in mind, Dafydd’s poem,
Er o bell, roedd herio byd heno'n gân
yn y gwaed, yn fywyd,
pob tôn yn fonllef hefyd,
yn un rhith, yn gôr o hyd.
can be rendered phonetically as something like
air o bell, roythe hairyo beed hairno'n garn
un uh gwide, un vuhwid,
pob torn un vonllev hehvid,
un een rheeth, un gore o heed.
In this version, we have shown the few sounds that do not exist in English in bold. To help a little more, below is a word by word guide.
Word by word English phonetics
Er o bell, roedd herio byd heno’n gân
er – like the ‘e’ of ‘hello’ plus a rolled r. o – as in ‘or’ bell – like ‘bear’ ending with a ‘ll’ sound roedd – like ‘roy’ ending with the voiced ‘th’ of ‘the’ herio – like ‘hair’ with ‘Rio’; the ‘r’ should be rolled; the ‘io’ is quite quick and nearly becomes ‘yo’ as in ‘yoghurt’. byd – like bead heno’n – like ‘hair’ plus ‘nor’, voice the ”n’ at the end, which really belongs to the next word … gân – like ‘garn’, then move straight on from the ‘n’ of ‘gân’ to the next word …
yn y gwaed, yn fywyd
yn – like ‘un’ y – like ‘uh’ or the ‘ur’ of ‘urban’ gwaed – like ‘wide’ but beginning with a hard ‘g’ yn – like ‘un’ fywyd – like ‘vuh’ plus ‘wid’, as in ‘widow’; the ‘w’ sound should be very subtle not be strongly enunciated.
pob tôn yn fonllef hefyd
pob – like ‘paw’ ending with a ‘b’ tôn – as in ‘torn’ yn – like ‘uh’ or the ‘ur’ of ‘urban’ fonllef – like ‘on’ beginning with a ‘v’, plus the ‘ev’ of ‘ever’ beginning with the Welsh ‘ll’ hefyd – like the ‘hea’ of ‘heavy’ plus the ‘vid’ of ‘video’
yn un rhith, yn gôr o hyd
yn – as in ‘un’ un – like the ‘ean‘ of ‘bean‘ rhith – like ‘wreath’ but with the added breath of an ‘h’ instead of ‘w’ alongside the rolled ‘r’ yn – as in ‘un’ gôr – as in ‘gore’ o – as in ‘or’ or the ‘aw’ of ‘law‘ hyd – as in ‘heed’
When you have got to know the piece, it will be time to film it. Hopefully, you will have everything you needed to hand, as suggested in the ‘step by step for singers‘ section. Here are a few pointers as to how to set it up and what to do.
We have found that the easiest way to record yourself is to play the video on one device (eg, a laptop or a tablet) and record yourself singing on another (eg, a camera or the camera on your phone).
For example, when we recorded our videos, we used a laptop and headphones to follow the music and set up a camera on a tripod to record the video.
where to record
If you can, find a quiet, well-lit space.
It might be worth closing any windows and making sure that your phone is set to silent before beginning. If possible, record yourself in a space that is not too resonant, and perhaps has some soft furnishings (your video editor will be able to add acoustics, so your sitting room would be better than your bathroom, for example).
If possible, stand facing a light source (such as standing near a wall and facing out towards a window or lamp). This will help to make sure that you are clear and looking your best. If this is not easy to achieve, try instead to avoid having bright lights behind you, or between you and your camera.
things to remember
Remember to listen to the video through headphones so that the only thing that can be heard is your singing.
Remember to set up your camera in landscape orientation, and try to position it so that the top half of your body and your head are in frame.
Remember, if possible, to find a way to keep your camera steady (eg, a tripod, a bookshelf, or a person) so that the video is not shaky.
Remember, if you can, to set your camera up reasonably close to you – it’s more important to hear and see you than the space you are recording in!
Remember that you do not need a printed copy of the piece or to have a full score on-screen when you are recording, the sheet music is in the video, and so is the conductor!
By the time you record, you will be familiar with the routine at the beginning of the video, so you will know what to expect and what you need to do in terms of following the instructions.
Do remember to clap in time with the clap-tests as it will help the video editor to line all of the videos up with each other; and, don’t forget to sing!
It is possible that you will make a few mistakes and need to have a few goes at making the recording – we certainly did! Allow yourself a bit of time for that and be patient with yourself.
if you made a mistake right at the end…
If it has been going brilliantly and then you make a mistake on the last ‘page’ of the video, stop recording, set the video to play from the top of that last page, and re-record just that page. Then in both of the files to be edited together at the end
really want to do this; really don’t want to film yourself
We are very keen that you produce something that looks as much as it can like a choir, and so we are hoping you will send videos of yourselves singing. However, if the idea of filming yourself is making the difference between taking part and not taking part in the project, then record an audio file instead, following the same process but recording audio rather than video.
Thanks are owed to Dafydd John Pritchard for writing and allowing the setting of his englyn; to Gwennan Williams for her support and work in producing the instructional videos; to Robert Russell for his work in accompanying, producing the instructional videos, and gathering together the completed virtual choirs; and, to you, for supporting the project, whether by taking part or your interest in it.