by Jacob Casper, Staff Writer, October 2020

As Nobles nears the end of the first quarter, students and faculty alike are slowly adjusting to the many COVID-19-induced changes. In spite of technical difficulties, a reduced number of classes per week, and Zoom limitations on class activities and interactions, teachers have persevered to improve the academic situation. However, one Nobles group has faced more challenges and difficulties than most: the Music Department.

During the months leading up to the start of the 2020-2021 school year, Director of Music Michael Turner was optimistic about being able to rehearse in-person. He discussed how the challenges that virtual singing in the Spring had presented would inevitably show up during the Fall. “In the spring, none of us [the Music Department] had ever done music in this way before, so we were really learning kind of under the gun towards the end of the year,” Turner said. He added, “The main difference, of course, was that we had already had half a semester of preparation for what was going to be the Spring Concert, so when we came back in April we just switched gears and knew that what we were going to be doing was recording the concerts instead of presenting them live.” 

Unfortunately, the state guidelines for singing changed the plan to practice music in-person. Turner said that the guidelines for singing recommend that, to preserve public health and safety, choral groups and wind instrument ensembles practice together outdoors for no more than half an hour at a time, with musicians at least 10 feet apart from each other. 

After realizing that no music program would be allowed back on campus in person, the department worked quickly to create a program that would both emulate the best parts of in-person music while also taking advantage of the benefits that a digital format provides. “The decision to be all virtual was not an easy one for all of us,” Coordinator of Applied Music Nhung Truong said. She elaborated, “Many of the things that I took for granted in the Spring — knowing my students, knowing my repertoire — I didn’t have those ‘luxuries’ anymore, so I found myself rethinking a lot of my ensembles and a lot of my classes.”  With Zoom breakout rooms replacing the Arts Center lobby and the recital hall as rehearsal spaces, teachers have had to figure out how both the social and musical aspects of singing transfer to a digital format. 

Regardless of what is missing, there are some advantages to virtual singing. Some students seem more motivated to engage with the music and are willing to put in the work to make virtual music excellent.  “I have found that, particularly with my groups, is that [students are] all practicing a lot more,” Turner said. “You’re going to be more inclined now to go back and listen to a recording and say, ‘maybe I could have done that a little better.’” Now, students are able to keep themselves accountable for their progress in learning and perfecting a song.   This allows teachers to focus more on improving the virtual music experience by being able to trust that students will spend lots of time and effort to work on their pieces. 

But not every singing group has found virtual singing quite as motivating and exciting. Truong emphasized that rehearsal spaces can sometimes feel awkward with all the singers on mute and the director teaching the piece simultaneously. “In my bigger groups, it can’t just be all of us muting ourselves [on Zoom] and rehearsing alone,” Truong said. She added, “It’s easier with my extracurricular groups, but as we progress through the year, we will try to have more small group activities and [Zoom] breakout room work.”

Because of the technical difficulties and the challenges with communicating over Zoom, some returning students were disappointed that they would not be able to practice and perform with their peers in-person. “It’s definitely much harder for community bonding, especially with Nobleonians and Imani, just because the bonds are really important to the smaller groups,” Rohan Meier (Class II) said. 

The senior singers are one specific group who feel disproportionately affected by the changes in musical rehearsal and the Nobles singing experience. With an in-person fall concert being an impossibility and the contents of the spring semester remaining uncertain, it is very possible that no current senior will get to perform music to a live audience this school year. Despite this disheartening prediction, Dylan Cleverly (Class I) remains upbeat about the situation. “I love the group [Chamber Singers],” Cleverly said. He added, “It’s always been a highlight of my week. I love making music with other people, and I love the stuff we work on.”

Students are still trying to persevere through the struggle to create the best experience possible for themselves and their friends. Even though they cannot partake in the usual in-person activities, students try to put in as much effort as possible over Zoom to be welcoming and encouraging. “There’s new freshmen in Chamber Singers who I really want to meet, so if we’re put in a breakout room together, I’ll try and take some time to get to know them,” Ava Neal (Class III) said. 

Of course, music at Nobles isn’t just about putting on amazing performances together: it’s also about community. Nobles music is facing some of its biggest challenges ever because of the pandemic and is in danger of losing the close-knit community that makes it so great.  Thankfully, everyone involved with Nobles music is working their hardest to make sure that we can have an extraordinary time creating together, even if we can’t meet in person.