Online singing

Jamulus singing

My work schedule finally allowed me to join the regular twice-monthly Bay Area Sacred Harp Jamulus singing.

There were about 15 log-ins, and three of those log-ins had more than one person singing. So we may have had twenty total humans singing together. We had one singer log in from Kansas, and his total latency as reported in Jamulus was about 74 ms; I did not notice that he slowed us down. Another singer logged in from San Diego, and I’m not sure what his latency was. But most of us had latencies in the range of 30-50 ms. This tended to keep tempos slower than usual.

Singing using Jamulus is getting easier. I’ve gotten used to the lack of visual cues; it’s still annoying, but it’s no longer disconcerting. I’m better able to judge how to stay on tempo: it’s a fine line to walk because on the one hand you need to have rock-solid time and stick with that time no matter what, but you also have to listen carefully in case the overall group is slowing down, in which case you have to adjust your internal metronome.

However, I still get tripped up by things. For example, this time I thought I was watching my volume level on the Jamulus controls, but at one point when I had to look down at the music, I unconsciously raised my volume enough to push my audio feed into the red zone. Jamulus has no room for error — you go into the red zone, your audio feed sounds horrible, and all the other singers have to mute you. I adjusted my mic volume down, and that solved the problem. And it wasn’t just me — another singer had the same problem.

I also wonder what will happen when we try music we don’t know well. So far, we’ve been sticking to tunes that all of us know well. When we start learning new tunes, for example some of the new music in the Shenandoah Harmony, will it just turn into chaos?

Nevertheless, singing with other people in real time — even in not in person — was enormously uplifting. The pandemic can really get you down, and this singing was a good antidote to that.

All-day singings & conventions Online singing

Palo Alto All Day, online version

This would have been the weekend of the annual Palo Alto All Day singing. We decided to hold a two hour online version yesterday, with two times for socializing in breakout rooms (do we call those recesses? or what?). The best part for me was the chance to talk with singers I haven’t seen for too many months.

Terry M. kept minutes (if you can keep minutes for an online singing). Here they are:

Jeannette Ralston 46; Dan Harper 38b; Marci Cutler 65; Leigh Cooper 189; Ginny Landgraf 378b; Peter Ross 122; Julia Smith 159; Kate Fine 187; Esther ? 214; Constance BoneĀ 261t (CH); Erin Fulton 172; Ann Riley 383; James Solheim 318; Clarissa Fetrow 154; Pat Coghlan 272; Aisha Morgan 495; Marci Cutler 140b (ShH); Jeannette Ralston 264b (ShH); Jenny Solheim 421; Don Fasolaman 77b; Ginny Landgraf 254 (ShH); Melissa Stevenson 179; Sue Lindner 216; Bonnie Stimler 384; Bonnie Stimler 454; ? ? 521; Memorial lesson; Dan Harper 347.

Online singing

Zoom singing

A good singing, and well attended. I think there were something like 25 total log-ins.

We continued with the usual format: people post their choice of tunes in chat, Lena goes down the list one by one, Leigh uses the web app Mark developed to find an appropriate field recording, and when it’s time to sing Lena mutes everyone so that you only hear the field recording. One or two singers led their own tunes, singing the tenor (melody) line, instead of relying on a field recording.

An interesting feature of this month’s singing is that some people who just discovered Sacred Harp joined the Zoom singing. During the break, I assigned them to breakout rooms with a couple of experienced singers to answer any questions they might have had. These new singers stuck with us for the whole session, but I wonder how it was for them. The rest of us know what it sounds like when you’re in the middle of a live singing; we learned with the support of other singers in our part; but these new singers have none of that. I hope they decide to come back.

Online singing

Another Jamulus singing

One challenge with Jamulus is reducing latency, and in some major metropolitan areas (like the Bay Area), you can have a great deal of latency to singers who live close to you, even if you both have good fast Internet service. Because if the packets have to travel up to a Tier 2 network, then up to a Tier 1 network, then back down to a Tier 2 network, and further down, it’s going to take a while — and the Bay Area has so much Internet traffic from small users up to really big users that things are just going to get slow at times.

In online forums, I came across one way to reduce the potential latency for all singers: host your Jamulus server in the cloud. The idea is to host your server on something like Amazon Web services that has a data center near you.

So Mark, one of our Bay Area singers who’s also a software engineer, set up a Jamulus server for us on AWS’s norther California data center. We tested it this afternoon with four log-ins totaling five singers, and the latency was better than I’ve experienced using Jamulus servers that are hosted locally in Palo Alto or Mountain View.

Not to say the latency was low. I probably had the highest latency, ranging from about 60-70 ms to 40-50 ms by the end of the session. This was counter-intuitive, because although the location of the AWS server is a Big Secret we sort of know where it is, and I was probably physically closer to it than anyone else in the session. Cyprian, who joined us from the North Bay, had better latency than I did, though he was probably 75 miles farther away. Also of interest: Adam joined briefly from Seattle, and his latency was about the same as mine.

Because of the latency, we had to keep the tempos slow. Then we often let the tempo slow down while singing a tune. And once or twice a tune just turned into chaos.

Nevertheless, it was so good to sing with other people in real time that all the frustrations were worth it. I hadn’t realized how much I missed singing in four part harmony.

I had to go back to work, and only stayed in the session for an hour. But it was good enough that I’m looking forward to doing it again.

Online singing

Jamulus singing

David set up a Jamulus server at his house in Berkeley, and we both logged on this afternoon to try it out. The latency was perhaps a little high, and it was strange at first singing without being able to see David leading, but we got used to it pretty quickly.

We sang a couple of tunes, then noticed that someone had dropped in to listen. We wound up chatting with Rob from Rancho Cucamonga. A trained musician and a guitarist, he was interested to hear us singing solfege; he’s just discovering Jamulus and was listening to different sessions to get a feel for it. It was sort of like when you’re singing Sacred Harp in person, and someone hears you and comes in out of curiosity. This could be a side benefit to singing on Jamulus!

David and I sang a few more tunes, then we both had to go. While it’s not the same as singing in person, it was really good to be able to sing together with another person in real time — it was also really good to be able to sing with David once again, who is a really good singer.

Online singing

BASH Zoom singing

We had the inaugural Zoom singing for Bay Area Sacred Harp this evening. Lena Strayhorn was the gracious host, and she followed Clarissa’s lead from the Seattle Zoom singing by asking people to say a little something about the tunes they chose.

Leigh did the screen sharing, and she came up with a couple of innovations that I liked. First, she shared audio only, so that while the recordings were being played you could still see all the other singers (though of course they were muted); it was nice to be able to see everyone else while we were singing to ourselves. Second, her husband Mark developed a Web app that allowed her to find recordings of the tunes online very quickly, which made everything run more smoothly.

I also enjoyed the people who chose to sing their own tunes. Of special note: the Kostka family had all four parts in their family, and led us in Rainbow; it was great fun to hear them singing for us live.

We had over 20 people on the call, so at the last moment I introduced another innovation: during our 15 minute socializing break, I randomly assigned people to breakout rooms with half a dozen others for about 10 minutes. That way, we could have actual conversations; otherwise, with 20+ people on a Zoom call, it would have been pretty chaotic.

I’m already looking forward to next month’s BASH singing.

Online singing

Seattle Zoom singing

Clarissa let me know about the Seattle Zoom singing, and for once I didn’t have an evening meeting for my job, so I decided to attend.

I was somewhat doubtful about the Zoom singings that people have been doing: get on a Zoom call, share a recording of a Sacred Harp tune, and sing along while you and everyone else is muted — where’s the fun in that? But it really was a lot of fun. First of all, you get to see people that you’ve met at past singings. Then too you get to see singers that you’ve never met before. And it was surprisingly satisfying singing along with a recording.

I was interested in how this singing was organized. Clarissa was the host, and she asked people to put their song choices in chat. Then Gillian found videos of the tunes that people chose, and sent those links to the person who did the screen sharing. I wound up doing the screen sharing of the videos for the first half of the singing, then Erik took over. Clarissa, Gillian, and Erik made it look easy. I liked the fact that Clarissa asked people to say a little something about whatever song they chose, and it was nice to hear what people had to say.

At the end, Clarissa said that there were singers from 10 different states logged in to the Zoom call.