Working alone, playing together: Cyber Ensemble performs virtually for Music Week


Audrey Moussazadeh and Alexandra Yao

For this year’s virtual Music Week celebrations, the HM Cyber Ensemble performed “Six Irish American Songs,” arranged by Serban Nichifor.

The HM Cyber Ensemble, a part of the HM Music Outreach club, consists of a group of wind instrumentalists, string instrumentalists, and pianists, Abigail Morse (12) said. In the interest of time, the ensemble chose to play movements one and six only.

Both movements contained a distinctive “Irish vibe,” Morse said. “Irish songs tend to have an upbeat feel, which is enlivening.” The piece, like many Irish jigs, included a base of different instruments, flautist Johanna Scher (11) said. These instruments played the same low note over and over, Morse said.

The ensemble also used various pedal tones to simulate the bagpipes heard in traditional Irish songs, Alex Rosenblatt (11) said. This base was paired with a higher and more prominent melody.

“The melody is really rhythmic and it usually has a flow to it,” Scher said. This rhythmic nature makes Irish music especially good for dancing, she said.

The first movement, which honored Saint Patrick, was titled “St. Patrick was a Gentleman.” This movement, Rosenblatt’s favorite of the two, was “regal with a little bit of sorrow,” they said. The sixth movement was titled “Dear Old Donegal.” It had a break in the middle that broke it into two sections, Morse said. Morse enjoyed the second half of the movement best.

“I like the melody. It’s very simple yet happy,” she said. Morse’s part was originally intended for a bassoon, but she transposed it for the alto saxophone, which she has been playing since fourth grade, she said.

Due to remote learning, the group mostly rehearsed virtually over Zoom, and the ensemble began looking over the music for the first time at the beginning of January, Morse said. In order to practice together, the ensemble used Ethernet cables.

“You connect them to your Wi-Fi router, and they make everyone play at the same time so there’s no lag,” Scher said. The ensemble also held unofficial practices on Sundays to rehearse for fun, Morse said.

To create a final video, members independently recorded their parts, which they later spliced together into one coherent performance, Rosenblatt said. “Basically everyone practices on their own, and we hope it lines up in the end,” Morse said.

“Trying to do everything alone, I would say, [was] the main challenge,” Vincent Li (11) said. Although Li used a metronome to keep in time when practicing at home, it did not have the same effect as having his fellow players there to do so, especially when he was recording his part, he said. “If you’re playing in person, then … you can sort of feel the overall rhythm,” Li said. “A really important part of music is being able to hear each other and build off of what other people are doing,” Scher said.

In addition to performing in Music Week, the ensemble sent videos of their pieces to various senior homes and hospitals around the Bronx, Scher said. In doing so, the ensemble hoped to uplift “people who need a bit of cheer in their lives,” Rosenblatt said.

“I found a lot of calmness and happiness knowing I was trying to do my best to send out videos to people to help them or stay in touch with community partners,” Scher said. “Even though we’re living through a pandemic, and we’re doing things virtually now, it’s really important to stick with the things that make you happy.”