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How a Times Team Captured the Sound of a Harlem Gospel Choir

How a Times Team Captured the Sound of a Harlem Gospel Choir

With 31 microphones, two mixing boards and a sea of cables, our team recorded a live rehearsal with a small group of singers, a band and Bethel’s leader, Bishop Carlton T. Brown. Using binaural audio, which replicates the acoustics of the human ear, we created a 3-D audio experience meant to mimic what it sounds like in that room.

“You really get a sense of the energy and how important the live part of making music is,” said Jon Cohrs, a technical producer on The Times’s research and development team and an audio engineer. In the two days he spent at Bethel, Jon witnessed the camaraderie and connection among choir members. “It’s really special, and you can see how impactful it is for everybody involved.”

The music you hear in the opening of the interactive feature is captured from two microphones in the back of the church, as if you were sitting in the pews hearing the voices reverberate through the cavernous space. You can move through the space in the 3-D experience, and the sound changes as you get closer to the stage and fly over the instruments.

Working on this project over the past few months, I’ve spent many minutes a day listening to the ethereal music we recorded, often with my eyes closed, my mind floating somewhere between my home office in Brooklyn and that sanctuary in Harlem.

Our reporting affirmed why so many churches went to great lengths to bring music to their communities during times of hardship. Again and again, pastors, congregants and choir members told us that church without music was never an option. Music is healing, they said, and it brings people together in a shared spiritual and cultural experience, even when we have to be physically apart.

As part of her research, Tariro attended an Easter Sunday service at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem, which is now allowing a small number of parishioners to attend in person. “There was a real sense of people sighing in relief, like, ‘We made it,’” she said. “A year ago they didn’t know if they’d make it.”

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