By Hannah Robinson
When COVID-19 forced in-person classes to an abrupt halt last spring, it seemed impossible for chorale, symphonic band, and other ensembles to continue making music together. However, with a little ingenuity and a lot of time, chorale managed to release several virtual choir videos, with each singer recorded separately in their own homes.
This fall, things look a little different.
Music ensembles have had the opportunity to rehearse in person. Even though nothing looks normal anymore, Dr. Jon Peterson, director of choral activities, has guided the choral department through this season as safely and resourcefully as possible.
“We’re obviously limited… in what we can do healthily,” Peterson said. “But where some institutions have stopped singing altogether, we have found scientifically proven, healthy ways to keep singing, and part of that has been rehearsing outside.”
The music department rented a large tent from the beginning of the semester through October, which was used by both chorale and band as a rehearsal space. Additional precautions were taken, including requiring students to wear masks during rehearsals and maintaining the advised six feet of social distancing space.
Layna Watson, senior music production and business administration double major, currently serves as chorale’s elected president, leading a team of chorale officers and assisting Dr. Peterson in the organization of Chorale.
“Not being able to sing inside has limited our abilities to be together,” Watson said. “And with a choir, the point is being together. It’s unity.”
Cassidee Yacklin, a freshman music education major who participated in chorale during high school, grieves some of the changes in the way chorale must function this year. “We used to sit close. We used to be able to sing in groups and around the piano. I just miss it. I miss how chorale used to be,” Yacklin said.
“On the officers, it’s been really hard to be COVID-friendly and still build that community we would get meeting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the chorale room,” Watson said.
Still, the officers have successfully led events like socially distanced movie nights and an on-campus adaptation of chorale’s annual retreat.
“It ended up being one of the most powerful… formative, memorable retreats that I’ve had in my eight retreats at Malone,” Peterson said.
Marching band and symphonic band have also had to make significant changes in their rehearsal patterns. In addition to following social distancing guidelines, the band, led by Jason Wyse, director of bands, is requiring students to wear special masks with a flap over the mouth so instrument mouthpieces can be inserted into the mask.
“Mr. Wyse has done a good job… making sure he’s following everything he’s supposed to, and doing anything he can to make sure we’re all safe,” said Kristyn Kasper, a freshman music education major who plays French horn in the band.
The pandemic has forced all areas of the music department to be flexible, but they also have a humorous side.
“Brass players have puppy pads so we can empty our spit valves,” Kasper said. “You can’t have that going on the floor right now.”
In chorale, singers have been provided with singer’s masks from the Broadway Relief Project, which supports artists who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The masks are designed to provide plenty of space for a singer’s lips to move and for sound to resonate. The resulting shape resembles a duckbill.
“I think Chorale’s new theme song should be ‘DuckTales,’” Yacklin said.
Live performance opportunities have been limited to several outdoor concerts throughout the semester. However, that hasn’t stopped the music department from sharing their work. For example, students presenting their senior recitals have done so by livestream, allowing friends and family to celebrate their accomplishments with them from a distance.
The music department’s biggest event in the fall has historically been Christmas at Malone, a two-night performance given by chorale, the vocal jazz a cappella pop group Amplified, piano ensemble, symphonic band, and string players from local orchestras. In lieu of their traditional live performance, the music department is currently working on a creative alternative.
“Obviously we can’t go in the worship center and sing as we would traditionally as a choir,” Peterson said. “We are sending groups of five to six students into the recording studio, and we’re laying down audio tracks.”
The singers are masked, and record in separate enclosed chambers of the studio, using a click track to keep in time. Joshua McManaway and Brian Ohler, who work in Event Services, have partnered with chorale to create a professional level audio recording.
“If all goes according to plan… we will then go into the worship center and essentially stage our performance without actually singing, and combine that with the audio tracks that we’re currently laying down,” Peterson said.
This event will be available as a professionally produced video in December. Although the uncertainty surrounding this season has precluded the department from setting a specific release date, updates will be available on the university’s social media accounts.
Malone’s Jazz Band will also be giving a Christmas concert in early December, which will be livestreamed and free to the public.
Despite COVID-19’s impact on the campus community, the music department plans to continue spreading joy in a safe, healthy way. No doubt, the restrictions have been hard for singers to adjust to, but the ability to meet in person has been worth the challenge.
“We’re doing it because… we love our neighbor, and that’s been the biggest blessing I’ve seen,” Peterson said. “I’ve really seen Christ’s love in the relationships between students, between faculty… and staff, it’s been a true blessing for me… It’s working, because we love each other.”