150 Years of Video Conferencing

This year, 2020, we are celebrating 150 years of video conferencing.  Yes, believe it or not, according to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, the first concepts of video conferencing were developed in the 1870s, as part of an extension of audio devices. The first actual developments of the video telephone began in the late 1920s with the AT&T company Bell Labs and John Logie Baird. AT&T experimented with video phones in 1927.

Early video conferencing experiments took place in the late 1930s in Germany. This early video technology over phone lines included image phones that would send still photos. AT&T began using video conferencing for its Picturephone service in the early 1970s.

It could therefore be seen as slightly ironic that to celebrate 150 years of video conferencing (or at least the concept of it), choirs across the globe are now required to rehearse over a video link.

Choirs & Zoom

Based on my research, and essentially copying what everyone else is doing, I set up a paid Zoom account to enable my choirs to ‘meet’ albeit virtually.   Although I’d not really heard of Zoom before a few weeks ago, it seems to have quickly established itself as the default option for group video chats.

So, rather than reinvent the wheel I decided to go with the flow.  Initial results were largely as expected.  The idea of being able to have some sort of video chat works reasonably well. In these days of ‘lockdown’ there is a lot to be said for getting together and just seeing how everyone else is coping.

Does it work?

In a nutshell, no!  There are two issues with using this type of solution for a choir rehearsal.  Firstly, there is inevitably a time lag so if everyone tries to sing together it all comes out as chaos!   Secondly the software tends to focus towards whoever is speaking.  There are various settings to do with original sound and so forth but ultimately it is designed for meetings rather than choir rehearsals.

That said, there are things you can do. It is possible to rehearse if all the choir are muted and the rehearsal is given essentially as a lecture.  And provided only one person is ‘open’ to the choir it is possible to get everyone to sing along to a choir leader / piano.  You can see people singing (albeit slightly out of sync) but you can’t hear anything.

This makes for an ‘interesting’ rehearsal to say the least.  However, for the moment it does help bring people together in these difficult times and ultimately is quite a bit of fun.

As to how we will view zoom rehearsals in the weeks ahead who knows.  For now, I am focussing on the social aspect of bringing choirs together and trying to have what ‘fun’ we can under the circumstances.


Jules Addison is a Choir leader and Sound Engineer so likes playing with the technology, even if (as usual) the tech tends to fight back and have ideas of its own.

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