Courtesy of Robert Lisak

Throughout this week, the Yale Schola Cantorum is releasing four virtual choir recordings to celebrate Holy Week and Easter.

The Yale Schola Cantorum, sponsored by the Institute of Sacred Music, is a chamber choir composed of students from different departments and professional schools across the University. In order to celebrate Holy Week — the week leading up to Easter — the ensemble released a recording on Monday and will release three more on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The recordings will be available on the choir’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

“Participating in virtual performances is definitely only a fraction of what it’s like to perform live, but what’s amazing about our Schola productions is that it nearly sounds as though we were together once all the audio files are combined,” Deborah Stephens MUS ’22, a member of the choir, said. “We have a fantastic sound engineer and stellar singers that make it possible.”

Performances this week feature works by a range of composers from the 16th to 20th century, including female composers Raffaella Aleotti and Amy Beach, as well as Black composer David Hurd.

Schola member Chris Talbot MUS ’21 explained that this year, Schola members and leadership championed lesser-performed works from different time periods. They are doing so this week by programming works by Aleotti and Beach, who Talbot said were  “wonderfully talented composers largely ignored during their time.”

According to Stephens, the Schola’s primary goal in selecting the variety of composers was to introduce more diversity and representation into their programming. Yet the composers are united in their common “penchant and passion” for writing choral music.

“While each piece is different, I think each work is united by their deep emotional character,” Talbot said. “In the Christian Church, Holy Week marks the end of Lent, a period of quiet, solemn reflection, and this time and the emotions that surround it have inspired composers for centuries. In this way it’s fascinating to see how composers from different eras have approached these same themes in strikingly different ways.”

The choir has not been able to meet in person during this academic year. According to Stephens, the group is optimistic about rehearsing in person this fall, but this possibility will ultimately depend on safety guidelines from the CDC and the university.

To put the recorded performances together, each singer made an a cappella rendering of their part while listening to a click track, with piano accompaniment, of the piece in their headphones. The choir’s sound engineer then edited the videos together.

Talbot noted that putting together recorded performances can be more time consuming than live performances.

“Singing in virtual performances is taxing but very rewarding,” Talbot said. “While in a live performance small mistakes can be easily ignored, they seem especially significant when recording a part for a virtual choir, and you don’t want to let your fellow singers down with a subpar performance. Because of that, it’s not uncommon to record five or even 10 takes of a five-minute piece before landing on the best one.”

The Schola Cantorum was founded in 2003.

Marisol Carty | marisol.carty@yale.edu