Despite separation, CBU ensembles still making music
Saxophonists in the Wind Ensemble at CBU participate in the optional in-person practice.
Riverside, Calif. (Oct. 13, 2020) – Wyatt Mitchison, a journalism and new media junior, enjoys singing in ensembles at California Baptist University.
However, COVID-19 has upended ensembles in the Shelby and Ferne Collinsworth School of Music. Although they are meeting using Zoom, online ensembles have unique challenges for the participants.
“Due to the issue of latency in doing video conferencing, it is not possible to [perform] together and hear each other, which is a critical component of ensembles,” said Dr. Guy Holliday, associate dean of undergraduate studies and director of bands.
For online rehearsals, students perform with a click track or performance track but on mute, Holliday said. To provide assessment, students record themselves, which the ensemble directors then review and give feedback.
Robert Ybarra, a music education senior who plays trombone, has participated in the optional in-person practice. Up to six instrumentalists with a faculty member may practice, with appropriate precautions, in a rehearsal room in the JoAnn Hawkins Music Building.
“I have taken advantage to be able to make music with other musicians and receive feedback to make sure I execute my music perfectly,” Ybarra said.
Some of the music the ensembles are learning will be performed live in the future. Other music is for a “performance deliverable”—a virtual video recording. This will involve students recording themselves. Then Keep Making Music, a professional studio production company in Austin, Texas, will assemble all the audio and video files, to make it look like the students are performing together, Holliday said.
“It is a time consuming and costly process, but we wanted to create something to show for our work during the pandemic and keep our student musicians highly engaged in making music,” Holliday said.
For Dr. Gene Peterson, director of choral and vocal studies, the online rehearsals cover the same material as usual, such as discussing best practices, studying a portion of the score and calling on individuals to sing specific parts.
“I have to trust that they are understanding what I’m teaching. They will then submit individual recordings and I assess each one,” Peterson said. “It’s basically individual assessment rather than group assessment.”
Peterson said he makes sure to include community time during rehearsals.
“We are being intentional to have time for students to connect with one another and study the texts together from a Christian, faith-based perspective,” Peterson said.
Mitchison said the students want to perform well, but it is hard to blend and adjust to singing with a choir when singing alone.
“We still want to inspire people with our music, especially in this challenging time. And our conductor is doing a fantastic job relaying that to us, whether that be through how we should sing or just inspiring us,” Mitchison said.
Mitchell Collard, a Master of Music student, plays percussion. In spite of the challenges, he said a benefit is that students learn the realities of recording.
In the professional world, musicians do not get much time to rehearse before recording in the studio, Collard said. In these times, CBU’s ensembles are preparing to record music with less time to rehearse than normal, so the learning environments are similar, he said.
“I've gotten to experience this firsthand in a variety of musical settings outside of CBU, so it is nice that even freshmen are getting to learn this so young,” Collard said.
Holliday said the directors are making every effort to build community and to ensure students are doing OK during this season of remote instruction.
“We definitely miss seeing them face-to-face and can’t wait to be making music in the same space together again,” Holliday said.