In a normal school year, the winter and spring calendars are filled with musical concerts, as student voices and instruments ring out in joyous acknowledgement of the seasons. This is not a normal year but, despite the pandemic, students and their instructors have found ways to share their music, going to great lengths to learn new technologies and create virtual ensembles that showcase their considerable talent.
“One of the overlooked challenges in creating these virtual choirs has been the students’ effort in navigating new technology for these projects. Although we are lucky to have audio/video recording programs, we do not take for granted the challenging process of learning how to use these programs from the student perspective,” say Edison vocal music directors Stephen Markowski and Kenneth Horn. “Despite the countless hours poured into these projects, we always kept in mind the intention of the finished product: a chance to be reconnected in a world that has been isolated for so long. We are honored to have the opportunity to provide that through music in any way that we can.”
Under Markowski and Horn’s direction, 6th graders perfected an upbeat virtual performance of “Old Man Winter” while the 8th grade chorus blended together the words and melodies of “In the Bleak Midwinter,” a virtual contrast of the bleakness of the winter season with the hope that spring brings.
Edison 7th graders came together virtually to sing “Dona Nobis Pacem.”
“Dona Nobis Pacem was a perfect choice for this year,” says Markowski. “This simple and moving message of peace is matched with a lyrical melody that the 7th grade students performed beautifully while adjusting to new voice parts in a strictly virtual setting.”
“Our music instructors rose to the challenge of providing an ensemble experience for their students,” notes K-12 Supervisor of Visual and Performing Arts Thomas Weber. “The majority of our teachers were not experienced with these audio/video recording technologies and production approaches prior to the pandemic, but spent many hours experimenting and learning. Many of the final projects took over 20 hours to complete.”
Jefferson Elementary School students created three virtual projects this spring with music teacher Kirsten Meyer that included the school song to the tune of “The Addams Family” and the choreographed use of flashlights to the melody of Camille Saint-Saens’ “Aquarium.” The Franklin Elementary School 5th Grade Glee Club mastered a virtual version of “Winter Sun/Winter Fun.”
“For the fall, the Glee Club only met virtually and had to remain muted throughout our rehearsals so I couldn’t actually hear how they sounded and the students couldn’t hear each other,” says Franklin music instructor Brent Geyer. “After several rehearsals, the students recorded their videos into [a video app] while singing along with an accompaniment track that I had made”
Geyer says, once all of the videos were submitted, he resized and edited each video, using a variety of digital video editing tools to mix the student voices and create a virtual ensemble.
“The whole process for one video took about a week to complete but the end result was worth it,” Geyer adds.
There were uplifting and heartwarming holiday performances in December, including a virtual rendition of “Deck the Halls” sung by McKinley 5th graders and directed by Christina Toulios, vocal music instructor for both McKinley and the Lincoln Early Childhood Center. The Westfield High School Choraleers and Band each shared virtual holiday greetings combining musical and technological skills.
“We sent a greeting to senior residents in Westfield in December for the holidays,” say WHS Band Director Christopher Vitale and Trevor Sindorf. “The performers in the video were members of the Wind Ensemble, but other students in the band offered season’s greetings throughout the video.”
Weber says the majority of final virtual projects were viewed during class so that students could discuss and critique the overall performances. Copyrighted materials prevented most of the virtual ensembles from being shared with the public.
“All of our teachers went to great lengths this year to celebrate our students’ talents by learning and utilizing new technologies,” says Weber.
Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan says she is awed, but not surprised, by these virtual efforts.
“We are fortunate to have a robust visual and performing arts community in the Westfield Public Schools, talented students and instructors who take pride and pleasure in performing at their very best,” Dolan says. “The fact that these student musicians and music directors took the initiative to learn these new technologies to be able to continue to perform in virtual ensembles speaks volumes about their dedication and resilience.”