Creating Music Together, While Apart

By Sherrie Negrea, May 27, 2020
Ithaca College choirs present virtual concerts and voice lessons.

As graduation edged closer with online classes ending, Willa Capper ’20 worried she would miss the signature ritual that every senior in the Ithaca College Treble Chorale has enjoyed for nearly 40 years.

At their last rehearsal, members of the chorale would surround the graduating seniors and sing “Irish Blessing,” a piece based on a poem ending with the line, “Until we meet again my friend, until we meet again...” Yet while rehearsals on campus had ended, Capper was able to sing the traditional send-off in a virtual concert presented in a livestream the week before graduation.

“It felt like we were all together again, even though we weren’t together,” said Capper, a vocal music education major who watched the concert from her home in suburban Philadelphia. “It was really good to hear everyone’s voices again.”

The online concert, which also featured the premiere of the piece, “This World, The Wall, and Me,” was viewed by more than 2,400 people worldwide — one of the largest audiences for a livestream concert produced by the School of Music.

When Janet Galván, the director of choral activities, learned that classes were shifting online, she began to investigate how she could create a virtual choir recording and selected a platform called Soundtrap, which was offered free during the pandemic. At the same time, Matthew Clauhs, an assistant professor of music education, had contacted conductors at IC to let them know that his class, Contemporary Ensembles in the Public Schools, could edit the videos for their class project.

Clauhs created instructions for the choir members to prepare individual recordings of their parts on the website. With suggestions from Galván, the students in Clauhs’ class then edited them so that the performance would sound as close to an actual concert as possible.

“Do I want this to be the future of choral music? No, but until we can be together again, it is a way to create music together while we are apart.”  

Janet Galván, Director of Choral Activities

“I’m so proud of the students and the final product with its creative visual effects,” Galván said. “Do I want this to be the future of choral music? No, but until we can be together again, it is a way to create music together while we are apart.”  

Before online instruction began, the IC Choir had started rehearsing a piece the college had commissioned from Michael Bussewitz-Quarm ’94, a Long Island-based composer who specializes in choral works and actively advocates for the transgender community. Her seven-minute work centers on her personal journey, using lyrics that include specific references to IC.

“That piece was a very, very complicated piece in terms of the timing and length,” said Emily Dimitriou, a vocal performance and music education major who sang in the choir. “When Dr. Galván first mentioned doing a virtual choir and introducing this piece as a premiere, I was nervous.”

But after rehearsing it on Zoom and hearing the composer speak to the choir, Dimitriou came to realize how powerful its message was. “The piece is about identity and realizing her true self,” said Dimitriou, who has one more semester left before graduating. “She wasn’t comfortable in her own skin. The way she talked about it, it was applicable to all of our lives.”

Clauhs said the students who edited the recordings learned how easy it was for musicians to perform together, no matter where they are. “I think they saw this as one way to engage students in collaborative music-making that kind of transcends concert halls as a way to collaborate with people in remote locations,” Clauhs said.

Virtual Voice Lessons

Singing in a virtual concert was not the only change in the curriculum for voice students this semester. Once remote learning began, the voice faculty decided that students who were taking lessons online could choose any piece they wanted to sing in their final performances, including a mixture of classical, pop, musical theatre styles, or anything they wanted to sing.

“Because students were facing so much stress with the pandemic, we just really wanted them to sing whatever was going to keep them singing,” said Ivy Walz, an associate professor of voice who taught 15 students this semester.

Normally students are assessed at the end of the semester through vocal juries, but the voice faculty decided to cancel them and instead, students could submit recordings of any songs they chose to sing for “Un-juries” and receive supportive feedback from faculty.

“We wanted to keep them engaged,” Walz said. “We wanted them to know that we were there for them, and we wanted to keep them singing through very difficult circumstances.”

Watch the Concert

View the "Blessing" and "This World, The Wall, and Me," as well as an introduction by composer Michael Bussewitz-Quarm ’94.