State of the arts: Music Department

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Emily Sun, Staff Writer

The Music Department will not allow students to sing or to play wind and brass instruments in school and will move concerts online this year. Though masks or instrument coverings may decrease the spread of respiratory droplets, students will not use them because there is not enough data to prove that they prevent transmission of the coronavirus, music teacher Nathan Hetherington said.

The Choirs, Wind Ensemble, Chamber Winds Ensemble, and Jazz Combo will use class time to practice the skills they need to record themselves for virtual concerts,music instructor Dr. Amir Khosrowpour said. Students will learn how to sing with a backing track or play to a metronome, frame their camera, look engaged, and position their microphone to capture the clearest audio. 

Additionally, ensembles will relocate so that they have more space. Middle Division choirs, Glee Club, Concert Glee Club, and Treble Choir will relocate to Gross Theater. Steel Drum Ensembles will move from their shared room with Jazz Combo and Wind Ensemble to the choral room. Orchestra and String Sinfonietta will remain in the Recital Hall, but students will sit in the audience as well as onstage to social distance, Hetherington said.

Private music lessons will be virtual and will take place after school, as it is not feasible to open practice rooms and sanitize them after every use or to bring in outside musicians, Khosrowpour said. 

For concerts, Sinfonietta and Steel Bands may be able to record their performances as a group, because they are small ensembles that do not include wind or brass instruments, Hetherington said. Orchestra can rehearse together, because they can wear masks while they play, but the group may be too large to film in one room, so students may need to videotape themselves individually. Members of all the other ensembles will rehearse and record separately.

Khosrowpour and music teacher Doug Epstein will work with video editors outside of the school to combine the students’ individual clips into one piece. The ensembles aim to distribute videos on the regular concert schedule, Khosrowpour said.

Concerts will not be the same, music teacher Michael Bomwell said. “[A performance] is an exchange of energy between performer and listener, and you can’t replicate that [online].”

Alex Rosenblatt (10) said taking cues and bouncing ideas off ensemble members are integral parts of Orchestra and Jazz Combo, aspects of playing which will become difficult virtually.

Rather than relying on the group, students will need to know what a song sounds like on their own in order to adjust the rhythm, pitch, and articulation of each note, Hetherington said. It will be a challenge to develop a cohesive sound when the students aren’t playing together, so they will have to show initiative and independence, he said.

It will also be more difficult for ensembles to make connections, Rosenblatt said. Students bond through long dress rehearsals, Secret Santas, and circles in the Black Box before concerts where they put their hands or bows in the center and shout ‘concert starts now!’ he said. Without those moments, Rosenblatt worries they will lose that familial feeling, and new ensemble members may not want to continue in the future.

However, teachers can use extra class time for bonding exercises to build a sense of camaraderie, Bomwell said. They can also discuss subjects they could not in previous years, like music history, music theory, and sheet music transcription. Bomwell wants students to gain experience in music technology so that they can use Soundtrap, an online music studio, to help edit the videos for their concert.

As the year begins, the Music Department will continue to adjust their plans to keep students safe, help them grow as musicians, and have “meaningful musical moments,” Bomwell said.