The Gustavian Weekly

Masked Melodies: Making music amongst COVID-19 - The Gustavian Weekly

By Tori Smith - Staff Writer | September 25, 2020 | Variety

COVID-19 has disrupted almost every sphere of life at Gustavus. Some have been easier to adapt to than others. Lectures, for example, have been able to go virtual with relative ease thanks to programs like Google Meet and Zoom, but what happens to an entire wind orchestra or a choir program during a pandemic? The answer? Get creative.
According to Senior President of the Gustavus Wind Orchestra (GWO) Emma Fischer, distance learning has been a big challenge for her community to navigate.
“How do you rehearse an ensemble over Zoom? You don’t,” Fischer said.
When campus completely closed last spring, last year’s GWO Officers had to get creative in order to keep the orchestra’s close community intact. They created The Nearer Project, which invited students, alumni, and community members to record themselves performing “Nearer My God to Thee.”
The clips were then edited together to digitally create a socially distanced choir performance. The song holds a special meaning to the members of GWO as it is performed at the end of every performance on tour.
This year’s officers have kept that same spirit alive by introducing a monthly Gustavus Bands newsletter and hosting virtual community-building events.
“We’ve had the opportunity to connect in new ways… I’m moved by our resilience, our strength and our ability to overcome the most significant challenge that our community has ever faced,” Fischer said.
Now that students are returning to campus, GWO has plans to get back to making music together. According to Fischer, the band will be split in half for rehearsals. The new seating will allow instruments to mix together which Fischer says will provide a different perspective for practicing their pieces.

“In some ways, we are totally reimagining what it means to play in band.”
-Emma Fischer

In addition to spacing seats ten feet apart, everyone will wear masks designed specifically for musicians in a band. Although these changes have been difficult for every member of the GWO community, some members feel it will make them stronger in the long run.
“I think that we’re going to come out of the other side of this with more patience, resilience and a greater appreciation for what we have,” Fischer said.

“GWO is ultimately defined by two things: excellent musicianship and community”
-Emma Fischer

Senior Vice President of the Gustavus Choir (G-Choir) Nathan Thompson, has had similar experiences adapting to these changes. When the campus shut down last spring, his biggest challenge was figuring out how to make the most of the experience when not being able to rehearse.
“It was especially difficult for seniors, because they deserved a better send-off. I hope they know how honored and lucky we are to have sung with them,” Thompson said.
This semester, however, the main focus is how to create music in a safe manner. Normally, choir performances and rehearsals require close contact with a large number of people.
Trying to find ways to mitigate these concerns has certainly been a challenge, but Thompson says they are doing the best they can.

“The department [has] responded with extreme attention to detail and with the well-being of the students in mind.”
-Nathan Thompson

Masks designed to prevent particles from spreading while also allowing room to sing have been provided to choir students. Additionally, students must schedule time online for the practice rooms to avoid exposure to others.
One of the most noticeable changes this year will be the virtual Christmas in Christ Chapel performance.
“Most is still undecided at this time, but one thing is for sure: the community within Chapel Choir, Lucia Singers and the Gustavus Choir will retain its strength,” Thompson said.
Despite all the changes that have come with this year, Fischer and Thompson both stress that what matters most is their community.

“There are two things that make [G-Choir] worthwhile: the music and the fantastic humans I get to sing with every day.”
-Nathan Thompson

Even with the distance and challenges that COVID-19 has presented, both GWO and G-Choir have proven that in these uncertain times, community has been the most important factor in navigating these changes.

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