TWU singers perform in global virtual choir
“It would be easy enough to throw in the towel and just decide to wait out this pandemic in isolation...Instead, many singers and choral directors have chosen to devote countless hours to learning the ins and outs of recording technology and videography so that we can have a goal to work towards and a way to continue sharing our music with the world."
-- Anna-Marie Ryan (BA Music, 2018)
In mid-March, as COVID-19 restrictions were introduced, choral performances were abruptly stopped.
Soprano Anna-Marie Ryan, graduate of TWU’s School of the Arts, Media + Culture (SAMC), expresses the challenge that many SAMC choir students and graduates faced earlier this year:
“TWU students who were involved in the choirs on campus this year were dealt a particularly hard blow, as they found out on the day of their final end of semester performance—which they had spent many, many hours preparing for—that the concert would have to be cancelled.”
A planned choral tour to the Maritimes was cancelled in the spring as well. Ryan comments, “Many felt the impact of this loss as they travelled home in March without being able to say proper goodbyes to their friends, or experience closure to the music that they had poured their heart and souls into learning and nuancing over the course of the year.”
Another singer, Audrey Loeffler (BA Media + Communication, 2021), admits that the past season of choir life has been difficult for her and her fellow musicians.
“With the Chamber Choir concert being cancelled the day of, and eventually the choir tour to the Maritimes being cancelled as well, my spirits were low as I flew home to finish online classes,” Loeffler said.
From disappointment to new inspiration
As the opportunities for in-person performances ended, however, musicians – including many TWU students and alumni – took their talent online.
Eric Whitacre is an American composer who has been running virtual choirs for over a decade. This year, Whitacre created a new Virtual Choir 6, and several SAMC students and alumni joined.
Ryan notes that artists are particularly resilient and innovative people, and virtual choirs, which have gained popularity since the pandemic, are “an excellent example of this.”
“It would be easy enough to throw in the towel and just decide to wait out this pandemic in isolation, hoping for the day when we can sing with other people in person and perform live concert again,” she says.
Instead, “many singers and choral directors have chosen to devote countless hours to learning the ins and outs of recording technology and videography so that we can have a goal to work towards and a way to continue sharing our music with the world,” Ryan says.
The growing popularity of virtual choirs
The virtual choir trend has grown significantly over the past several months, as more and more ensembles have realized that in-person concerts are a much more distant reality than they had previously hoped.
While singing at home by yourself with a recording and a computer screen or smartphone in no way provides the same satisfaction or connection that can be experienced while singing in a choir, Ryan says that she has found participating in virtual choir projects “critical” in helping her remain motivated in her practice of singing.
“Preparing for these projects has given me a reason to keep up the skills that I've spent years developing and has kept my musician’s brain sharp while I study and practice new music that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to engage with,” she says.
SAMC joins a global virtual choral performance
One very memorable project that Ryan and other SAMC singers have participated in, is a virtual choir project led by Whitacre.
In the midst of a socially-distanced summer, Whitacre led 17,572 singers from 129 countries in a virtual performance of "Sing Gently,” a piece written by Whitacre when the pandemic began in March.
Ryan believes that Whitacre’s virtual choir is a testimony to how powerful shared musical experiences are, and how important singing is for so many people around the world.
Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6 performance of “Sing Gently” premiered July 19 on YouTube. The video has garnered over 1.3 million views to date.
Ryan notes that “a quick scroll through the comments on the YouTube video reveals just how meaningful this project is to thousands that took part.”
Trinity Western students and graduates who sang in Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6 include: Brendan Dixon (BA Art + Design, 2021), Katrina Garcia (BA Music, 2018), Colin Jamieson (BA Music Education, 2020), Audrey Loeffler (BA Media + Communication, 2021), Corinna Richmond (Scholing) (BA Education, 2020), Anna-Marie Ryan (BA Music, 2018), Chloé Thiessen (BA Music, 2021), Andrew Whiteside (BA Music, 2020), and Andrea Tisher (local composer and friend of SAMC).
Here are some thoughts and reflections from TWU students and alumni who participated in the global Virtual Choir 6 performance of “Sing Gently” this summer:
Katrina Garcia (BA Music, 2018)
I got involved in Virtual Choir 6 because I have wanted to participate in one of Eric Whitacre’s virtual choirs since I first heard of them in high school. “Sing Gently” was written for a very strange time in our world that people from every country were affected by. I found it a nice song to sing on my own, but when I heard and watched the final video, I had goosebumps because of the magnitude of this project! How incredible to be “singing gently” alone, but then also “singing gently” with literally thousands of other people. This was a hauntingly beautiful experience and I am so honoured to have been able to be a part of it!
Colin Jamieson (BA Music Education, 2020)
I got involved with the Whitacre Virtual Choir 6 because I heard that many of my friends were involved with it. I thought that it was a fantastic way to demonstrate how close the choral community is, and I wanted to contribute to a project that brought people together through music. The piece was a “gentle” reminder that no matter how difficult it is to see the light at times, we can always trust that our questions can be answered through singing. This is an incredibly uplifting thought for any artist knowing that they will always have a family in their discipline. I consider myself blessed to have been part of a project that supports many things I hold dear, including community, creation, and sharing our gift as singers.
Corinna Richmond (Scholing) (BA Education, 2020)
I sang soprano in Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6! It was such a wonderful opportunity to continue finding joy in coming together in song, in the midst of a time where it was easy to feel separated from others. I loved the lyrics of the song as well; it gave the reassurance that even when life is chaotic, we can always come together as one, and sing gently and beautifully.
Brendan Dixon (BA Art + Design, 2021)
I took part in Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 6 largely because I've been super interested in his virtual choir projects ever since I first learned about them and saw his first one (Lux Aurumque). I love choral singing and Whitacre's compositions, so to be involved with a choral project of his was really exciting! The circumstances of the pandemic made this particular project that much more special and meaningful as a means of connecting with other singers and creating something together. I also took part in Whitacre's previous Virtual Choir (Deep Field) for much of the same reason as this most recent one. I'm also part of the virtual choir set up by Colin Jamieson for his piece "Psalm 16", at his invitation.
Audrey Loeffler (BA Media + Communication, 2021)
I got involved in the Whitacre Choir project after my older sister sent me the link to his website because she also participated. I was really excited to be a part of it, partially because, in high school choir, our director showed us Whitacre's TED Talk with his 10,000 person virtual choir video, I thought it was the coolest thing. Being able to be a part of a project that big was impossible to pass up. I think it was particularly poignant that the lyrics we sang were "Sing gently as one." The entire piece revolves around the unity found in choir, and that's beautiful in the face of a pandemic that halted singing in groups around the world. In a time that I felt lonely and isolated from the things and people I loved, the lyrics and beautiful harmonies of "Sing Gently" were an encouragement, an assurance that we don't have to be alone, even when we can't be together in person, and that we can look forward to the day when we can sing together once more.
In addition to Virtual Choir 6, I recorded videos for two other virtual choirs, with pieces composed by my friends Colin Jamieson and Chloe Thiessen. I was honored to be invited and participate in their projects, especially since they worked so hard on creating the pieces and pouring their hearts and souls into them. I learned quite a bit about the process of creating a virtual choir and the logistics that go into considerations for not only filming, but writing the piece in the first place, making it something that your singers can sing on their own, but that will still mesh well with everyone together.
About Trinity Western University
Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to establish meaningful connections between career, life, and the needs of the world. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has five campuses: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, Ottawa, and Bellingham, WA. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vital faith community committed to forming leaders to have a transformational impact on culture. Learn more at www.twu.ca or follow us on Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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