Harmonizing from home: choirs perform virtually

Most of the school’s concerts look the same: dozens of parents, teachers, and students come together to showcase the hard work of the school’s talented musicians. However, the upcoming choir performance will be running differently: with the help of members of Music teacher Timothy Ho and Accompanist Dr. Amir Khowrosphour, Concert Glee, Treble Choir, Glee Club, Middle Division (MD) Chorus, and Chorus 6 have all recorded videos of themselves singing, which will be compiled to produce a virtual chorus. 

Ho has wanted to put a virtual choir piece together since 2010, when composer Eric Whitacre first created one for his classical voice piece “Lux Aurumque,” a large modern a cappella choral work, he said. Once COVID-19 began to spread, many virtual choirs across the world immediately popped up, particularly from high school choirs, inspiring Ho and Khosrowpour to take action, Khosrowpour said.

Ho and Khosrowpour worked hard to ensure that the compilation would be a success, Ho said. First, they selected relatively straightforward pieces that they believed their students could learn quickly and then purchased the necessary sheet music. Next, Khosrowpour created rehearsal tracks for each voice part—soprano, alto, tenor, and bass—consisting of a click running at a consistent tempo, a piano part, and the individual voice part. They then uploaded the sheet music and the vocal warm-ups to PowerSchool Learning.

Ho does not yet want to reveal the names of all of the pieces, but the videos will include a piece performed by members of all of the choirs, a piece performed by only seniors, and a piece featuring the Treble Choir alone, he said. 

Film and photography teacher Jordan Rathus taught Khosrowpour how to use Adobe Premiere so that he could make the video, he said. “Once we collect all the videos from all the singers, I’ll put together the actual virtual choir, aligning everybody’s videos to each other and to the instrumental tracks,” Khosrowpour said. Although Ho is unsure of when the video will come out, he said that it will be released after it is shared with the performers, Head of School Tom Kelly, and the MD and Upper Division (UD) heads. 

Ho and Khosrowpour have improved the process by creating recordings and holding weekly Zoom meetings to discuss the concert and the current situation, Julia Grant (10) said. “It really gives us a sense of normalcy.”

Although there isn’t time for individual discussions during the Zoom meetings, Ho has made it clear that he is always available to talk outside of class one on one, Avi Rao (9) said.

Ho has also organized Zoom sessions solely for the seniors so that they can talk about how they are going to end their careers with Ho and the music department, Luke Weber (12) said. “I think that’s been very helpful at keeping us all reassured that he has our backs.” 

Although Ho and Khosrowpour have made the transition to online learning as smooth as possible, there are significant differences between singing alone and singing while surrounded by others, Dalia Pustilnik (10) said. “It can be harder to know when to come in and to know your pitch or to know the notes because you don’t have the reassurance from the other people in your voice part,” she said.

Similar to Pustilnik, Riva Vig (10) believes that the lack of feedback when singing alone is a major challenge, she said.

“It’s definitely harder learning a piece online when there aren’t other students singing to help us identify what we need to fix,” Rao said. “The hardest thing is not knowing if I’m correct, so I just have to believe in myself.”

Khosrowpour recognizes the challenges of recording music at home, but nevertheless believes in the recording, he said. “It’s difficult to sound good as an individual using a phone or computer microphone, but one of the biggest challenges is to not be too critical of one’s recording and to trust that when blended with the other 200+ singers, it’ll sound good,” he said.

The students appreciate Ho and Khosrowpour providing them a chance to do what they love even during the crisis, Grant said. She would enjoy contributing to another video sometime during quarantine, she said.

Rebecca Rosenzweig (11) said the concert has brought members of Concert Glee closer, as they have been able to check in with each other and talk about how they’re doing. This is a moment where the community has come together, since the concert includes all of the choirs from the MD and UD, Rosenzweig said.

Despite the move online, some things haven’t changed, as the group is still able to laugh and have fun together, Pustlinik said.

“What [the video] shares in common is what all of our concerts are about, which is showcasing the talents of the performing arts programs at Horace Mann,” Weber said. “How hard we push ourselves to do our very best will never change. I promise you.”