Society and Culture

‘Car choir’ puts an inventive spin on live concerts during pandemic

U of A choral director conducts live performances in a parking lot, with singers performing from the safety of their cars.

  • March 26, 2021
  • By Geoff McMaster

In a year when in-person concerts have been next to impossible, U of A choral director Tim Shantz has found a way for the university’s Madrigal Singers to perform live before an audience. And it doesn’t involve Zoom.

Gathered in a parking lot, the members of his choir sing into microphones from their cars—all safely contained in their own COVID bubbles—with Shantz conducting from an elevated platform outside. A sound technician mixes it all on an iPad, sending the signal by FM transmitter to any car stereo in the vicinity.

Tuning into the FM frequency, the singers can hear each other (remarkably without feedback), and audience members can listen to the concert in real time, without any delay.

U of A choral director Tim Shantz conducts a car choir performance of the Madrigal Singers from a campus parking lot. (Video: Geoff McMaster)

“I didn't expect it to work as well as it did,” said Shantz, “with the kind of emotion it brings and the chance to actually interact with other people. It blew me away.”

Shantz has staged these concerts about half a dozen times so far, including with his professional Calgary choir, Luminous Voices, which was nominated last week for a Juno award in the category of Classical Album of the Year: Vocal or Choral.

This innovative solution to performing live during a pandemic has attracted attention from American broadcast networks CBS and NPR, as well as local media.

“It's this live, interactive experience we've really been missing,” said Shantz. “Then you hear all kinds of horns honking as applause afterwards, and the appreciation of people actually listening. It's incredible.”