By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend
Penn State Behrend choir students weren’t able to gather in person at all this academic year, but they were still able to raise their voices to make beautiful music, culminating in a year-end virtual concert, now on YouTube at https://bit.ly/3xP0UEG.
Dr. Gabrielle Dietrich, director of choral ensembles and associate teaching professor of music, said that about twenty choir students continued singing through the pandemic, which meant learning how to use the online recording platform, Soundtrap, to record their parts.
“We used group Zooms during our normal rehearsal times to learn sections of each piece, then used one-person breakout rooms (we called them ‘recording booths’) to individually record what we’d learned in rehearsal,” Dietrich said. “Then, the next time we met for class, we’d listen to the edited recordings to talk about what went well and what we’d like to improve for next time.”
“It was slow going” she said, “but students reported that they liked getting feedback on their performance and having the recordings to reflect on as they worked to improve.”
COVID-19 safety precautions made in-person sessions impractical, since everyone would have to have been masked and spaced nine feet apart and in a single line. Additional requirements would have made gathering to sing together nearly impossible, so the choir worked together virtually.
“It was hard not to be together in person, but it was a relief to know we were keeping one another safe and still making music,” Dietrich said.
The virtual concert represents the final project for choir students, just as an in-person concert would in a normal year.
“The nice thing about having it on YouTube is that anyone can watch it from anywhere whenever they have time, so students can ‘invite’ family and friends from around the world,” Dietrich said.
Another benefit? Guest performers.
“We had help from a Behrend Choir alumnus, Taylor May, and two guest performers from my own musical community: flutist Emma Shubin, who teaches music in the Denver area, and guest bass Dr. Edward Cetto, who was my college choir director and musical mentor,” Dietrich said.
Among the pieces performed is a rendition of the theme song for the 2014 film Selma, recorded by Common and Legend, Make Them Hear You from the musical “Ragtime,” and Halloran/Bolk’s arrangement of Witness.
“This concert has been quite the labor of love, which is reflected in the themes of the pieces in the concert, Dietrich said. “It’s about love between individuals, love for a world that is learning hard truths, love for what we have lost, and love for what we still have and for what is possible in our future.”
Watch the entire concert here.