Cantor David Barash of Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun is a self-described “digital dinosaur.”
Yet in the past few months, he’s led the creation of choir videos, learned to use a Bluetooth microphone and speaker during remote services, and thought up innovative ways to create a high-quality listening experience for congregants over Zoom.
When Barash first tried out virtual singing, he realized that singing together on Zoom “just doesn’t sound good.”
The sound can get “compressed and funky,” and latency issues can make it difficult to have an accompanist playing in one place and a cantor singing in another.
But Barash said he wanted to find a “silver lining” to the pandemic. Despite his inexperience with technology, he got to work trying to translate live music to an online setting.
His first project was a youth choir video, where kids filmed themselves singing “Am Yisrael Chai” in their homes.
With help from former congregation accompanist Matt Finch — who works as a sound engineer — they were able to sync together different voices and create the effect of a choir singing together.
At a Friday night service, the congregation played the video as their closing song.
“There were brothers and sisters who did it together, families who participated,” Barash said. “So, it really brought the community together.”
Barash then decided to expand the opportunity to the adult choir, and they created a video rendition of “Ozi V’zimrat Yah.”
In addition to showing asynchronous videos, Barash has also figured out a way to air high-quality synchronous music.
Before services, Barash asks the congregation’s accompanist to send him music recordings. During services, he plays the recordings on a Bluetooth speaker and sings into a microphone with high sound quality.
That way, the music and singing come from the same place — and “the quality goes up tremendously,” Barash said.
Barash said he is also looking to create a better virtual shofar experience. Usually, during the High Holy Days, the congregation has people blow the shofar in different parts of the sanctuary to surround people in the sound.
“In this world we’re living in, I can’t say ‘Tekiah,’ and then wait for somebody to turn on their spotlight video, unmute and then do it,” Barash said. “It doesn’t have the same pace to it.”
Instead, he’s asking congregants to send in videos of themselves playing the shofar to be edited together.
“It’s all about involving congregants, especially in this time, to feel that they’re part of something bigger than what they are,” Barash said.