The hills are alive: combining the benefits of natural environments and group singing through immersive experiences

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Electronics

Abstract

This project uses immersive virtual reality technology to bring to life a key moment in the formative history of the UK's National Trust. The main outcome of the research is an immersive and interactive virtual reality installation where individuals can participate in a group singing event on a Lake District mountain summit in virtual reality, commemorating the 1923 gift of land to the nation in memory of those who lost their lives in the Great War 1914-18.

The project draws together the various threads of the challenge in a unique way, uniting memory, place and performance in a compelling realisation of the power of immersive experiences to transform historical events through cultural participation. Current research identifies important health and wellbeing benefits associated with both fell-walking and group singing, and this project provides opportunities not just for able-bodied participants to enjoy the multiple wellbeing benefits of singing on mountain summits, but uniquely will provide opportunities for those otherwise unable to access such activities to do so through an immersive virtual reality experience.

This project also seeks to develop relationships with cultural heritage partners in the Lake District and beyond, and to develop a workflow for the capture and virtual reality reproduction of choir performances in inaccessible but culturally significant locations, to permit the application of the technology in a wide range of installations and exhibitions in the future.

Planned Impact

The immediate beneficiaries of this project include the project choir established to rehearse and record the musical materials during the capture for VR, those members of the general public who participate in the VR installations, the National Trust, Keswick Museum, the ensemble Mouthful, and the local communities of the Lake District and wider public in general. In the future, the results of this study will also benefit other custodians of potentially inaccessible but culturally significant locations, such as the North York Moors National Park Authority and National Parks Wales.

Participants in the study will benefit in a number of ways. Having the opportunity to work with Mouthful, an inspirational UK a capella ensemble, and to perform in a group on a Lake District summit in a technically innovative way will make for a very exciting and memorable experience. Participants of the VR experience will also directly benefit from the uplifting and unique experience of listening to a choir sing on top of a Lake District summit, or even becoming involved in the performance themselves as co-performers. Especially for those members of the public with challenges of mobility, the project will provide an unprecedented opportunity to participate virtually in an exciting and meaningful cultural event. There will also be an indirect general benefit for local communities and the wider public in general, through the commemoration of the 1923 gift of land by the FRCC, and its role in transforming the way that the British public's relationship to the land changed after the Great War 1914-18, facilitating wider dialogue about and awareness of the value both of outdoor activities and group singing.

Third Sector partners will also directly benefit from this project. Completion of the project will allow The National Trust to meet their strategic aims, including 'Experiences that Move, Teach and Inspire', 'Growing Support' and 'Restoring a Healthy, Beautiful Natural Environment'. The project is expected to: demonstrate an increased engagement with the location in participants; secure significant Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) in local media, with the potential for national media interest; help explore the potential for engaging new audiences by working with organisations involved with mental wellbeing in Cumbria; and help start a conversation with wider visitors to the Lake District about the nature of these mountains as war memorials, and to help change behaviours that cause damage and show disrespect to the natural environment. Keswick Museum will also benefit from such an innovative exhibit which will reach and engage new audiences in the curatorial work they do and draw members of the public into the museums' other galleries, helping not only to access the museums' wider collections and role in the community, but helping members of the public to view the museum as an innovative and exciting place of discovery and technological advancement. Finally, as professional artists on the project, Mouthful will benefit from the opportunity to present their artistic work in a completely new format for public engagement, and from the increased profile of their artistic work.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Fellowship Resource Pack 
Description 500 Resource Packs were printed and distributed to community choirs across the UK which included all the scores and directions of how to sing the songs, pictures of the original choir and the performance days, and descriptions of the research team and the project as a whole. The pack allows anyone to make their own 'Fellowship Choir' and re-live the experience we created in real-life (as well as providing them with the VR videos on a USB). 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact These packs have only just been distributed so no impact can yet be measured. 
 
Title Fellowship VIIVA experiences 
Description We created a number of 360 videos of performances on summits in the Lake District made available through the National Trust Lake District Facebook Page 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact This led onto the creation of the follow-on funding project 'Sing from your Seat'. 
URL https://www.facebook.com/NTlakedistrict/videos/1773897782694063/
 
Description We have developed new workflows that allow us to make virtual reality singing experiences of outdoor group singing performances, that improve access to group singing experiences for those who couldn't otherwise join in. We overcame technical challenges of heavy equipment and weather conditions in order to create these workflows that will now be embedded in the next phase of the project. We understand more about what is important about singing together for health and wellbeing. In particular, using Sensemaker to assess the experience of people singing together on mountain summits we can see that sense of togetherness and community was usually considered more important than the place to the power of the experience. This is particularly important when considering the position of VR in improving the health and wellbeing of individuals thrgouh virtual group singing (as it is in itself a solitary experience). We also learnt that our virtual reality singing experience was considered to be a good representation of the real environment and have learnt about how we can tailor future singing experiences specifically for the VR playback to encourage participation.
Exploitation Route We are excited that in the next stage of the project we will be working with AgeUk to focus on developing the experience for the elderly to use the experience in Carehomes. The experience as it stands can be viewed by anyone to share the experience of the performance on Great Gable on youtube but we are now looking to improve the quality of life for specific demographics by making the experience freely available and easy to use and sing along with.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description The follow-on funding from this project allowed us to engage the worksflows that were created for a new demographic - the elderly. We created new virtual reality choir experiences and took these around residential care homes to give people who are isolated the chance to engage in group singing experiences outside. The reactions were overwhelmingly positive.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Sing from your Seat: community singing in the great outdoors in VR as a beneficial intervention for the elderly
Amount £32,006 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/S010572/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 06/2019
 
Description Keswick Museum 
Organisation Keswick Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We provided the installation (in collaboration with the National Trust) that was installed to represent the project. We worked with Keswick Museum to reserve the space and organise the exhibit as well as the VR installation (which was manned by our team at all times).
Collaborator Contribution They provide support and advice about the content of the exhibit, providing expertise of museum curation and practical solutions about the use of VR in museum spaces. They provided space with their museum for our exhibit, supporting the project while it was installed there.
Impact Installation of exhibit with virtual reality installation at Keswick Museum in the Summer of 2018
Start Year 2018
 
Description National Trust 
Organisation National Trust
Department Lake District
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We set up this partnership to develop the project at the heart of the Immersive experiences call. We led meetings, co-wrote and presented the application submission and worked together to deliver the project. This included managing the allocation of tasks and resource across the project and careful communication between the partners to work on the marketing and impact of the project and achieving the deliverables. We provided the technical expertise to enable to virtual reality capture of the singing on the summits and the skill sand expertise of group singing practices, and qualitative and quantitative research techniques to measure the impact of the experience on individuals.
Collaborator Contribution Management of activities (organising choirs / people) Health and safety management (Mountain leaders provided for hiking days) Financial contributions (both direct and in kind) IT support - The National Trust website was used to book the VR experience in Keswick Museum
Impact The delivery of choir performances on the summits in the Lake District. Cumbria Life Culture award 'Best Partnership Project 2019' (with Harmony Associates / Mouthful Voices) The development of future project ideas currently being written up as proposals for future funding Short Film 'Fellowship of hill and Wind and Sunshine in Keswick short film festival National Trust Experiences Outstanding Achievement Award (as part of the Great Gift Programme) 2018
Start Year 2018
 
Description Fellowship Recordings 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The Fellowship Choir took part in several days of singing workshops building to the performance days which involved hiking to summits including Great Gable to perform choral pieced written to commemorate the Gifting of Land to commemorate the Great War. These performances were recorded in VR fort he VIIVA experiences to be made and allow other members of the public to join in who couldn't take part live.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Installation Keswick Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The VIIVA experiences was installed at Keswick Museum and members of the public as well as choir members were invited to try the experience. We were trialing the feasibility of having an interactive virtual singing activity in a museum and how people engaged / joined in with the experience in virtual reality. We measured people's responses through Sensemaker and questionnaires to gauge how realistic the experience felt and whether people were willing to sing in the environment. From this work we developed new procedure for the content of future experiences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Lakes Alive Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The VIIVA Fellowship experiences were taken to the Lakes Alive Festival where they were installed to allow people to try the experiences (sing along with the virtual choir). Self assessment manikin was used to measure peoples' responses to the system with unanimously positive results.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description National Trust Magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A double page spread in the National Trust Magazine describing the Fellowship fo Hill and Wind and Sunshine project which the Hills are Alive is an integral part of. The article described the the choir, the repertoire, the purpose of the project and the research being undertaken.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description The Story of Singing in Virtual Reality Podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Series Four: The Story of Singing in Virtual Reality (episode one)
November 15, 2018
Virtual reality technology is being tested in a range of new contexts, from helping museum visitors access the past and travel the world, to allowing people with disabilities to experience activities they have difficulties with in the 'real world.'

Researchers at the University of York's Audio Laboratories are now investigating what impact the technology could have on community singing. Previous research has shown that singing, and particularly choir singing, can have positive impacts on mental health and wellbeing, but can it have the same impact in the virtual world?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://thestoryofthings.podbean.com/e/series-four-the-story-of-singing-in-virtual-reality/
 
Description YorkTalk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Singing in a virtual world: understanding the real world benefits of singing together
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptezY5POVH8&feature=youtu.be