Music faculty thinking outside the box with remote concert pieces

Troy University music faculty and students are getting creative during the coronavirus lockdown with virtual music projects.

Troy University music faculty and students are getting creative during the coronavirus lockdown with virtual music projects.

Members of Troy University’s John M. Long School of Music haven’t let the coronavirus stop them and their students from performing.

While in-person concerts aren’t happening due to COVID-19, several faculty members and their students have used technology to create stunning virtual performances.

The Symphony Band, Concert Chorale and Frequency have all crafted collaborative pieces edited together by Kenny Beck, a Lecturer of Music Education and Music Industry.

“When we went into quarantine, our live performances came to a halt, but we had to come up with ways to get students to perform,” Beck said. “My thought was Eric Whitacre, who is a famous composer. I’d seen in the past he had done some massive projects with thousands of voices, where they would submit videos of themselves performing the work, and he and his crew would go through, compile and produce this video with all these other voices. It was an awesome project, and I thought it was something we might be able to replicate to a degree.”

Other faculty members became intrigued by the possibilities.

“I like to think outside the box,” said Dr. Diane Orlofsky, Director of Choirs. “Concert Chorale had been preparing and was three and a half weeks from their big performance for the term when this happened. We had pieces that were pretty far along. How do you help all these kids who are extraordinarily disappointed because all their hard work is gone, and there’s no opportunity to flesh it out?”

Through trial and error, Orlofsky and her students put together two separate pieces – one from Concert Chorale and one from Frequency – with Beck editing them together into a polished final product.

“All the things you see online make it look like it’s easy,” Orlofsky said. “And I have to tell you, this is the opposite of easy. It’s pretty demanding. I had to become a quick student of what was needed. Instructors really have to put themselves out there, learn new technologies and try to find solutions.”

Dr. Mark Walker, Director of Bands, put something similar together with the Symphony Band, a piece titled “Salvation is Created” by Pavel Tchesnkov.

“The reason I chose that piece is it’s a beautiful chorale that, even without words, sends a message of comfort and hope, that everything is going to be OK,” Walker said. “I made a short video of myself conducting for the piece, sent video out to the students, and they recorded their particular parts on their own. We uploaded all of that, and Kenny got all of those videos, put them all together into the performance. I thought it was pretty good. This was our first attempt. It shows that we’re able to still make music together, although nothing is ever going to replace making music together in the same room.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Dave Camwell, an Associate Professor of Music, worked to create a similar project with the Jazz Ensemble and has been working on his own remote collaborative music projects with colleagues in other states.

“A lot of our students live in rural areas. My thought was it would be a good use of my skillset — I do a lot of video and audio editing,” Camwell said. “I picked a tune and had them play along with a recording so everybody was on the same page with the same timing. I imported and did a lot of post-production work, audio and video editing.”

He’s done the same with his personal collaborative video pieces.

“I do it just to stay active and have goals and not get into the morass of sitting on the couch and not accomplishing anything,” he said. “My personality type is go-go-go. I started reaching out to some of my friends and colleagues around the nation, thinking about what are some pieces that people would like, and how to make them better, raise the bar of these things. Our minds and our souls need some beauty and not just the constant negative headlines we read about. It’s helpful, too, for our students to see that our professors are active and leading the charge of keeping music alive.”

While the projects have been rewarding for those involved, Orlofsky said it’s impossible to replicate the experience of true live performances.

“I call this a virtual project and not a performance, because I think in a true performance, you really do need that element of people being together,” she said. “Was the effort worth the result? Yes, because I think it showed that for the last five weeks we’ve been doing a sliver of what we normally do in rehearsing. The element that’s missing is being able to do that together, being able to connect with the people in the community. You can never take away live performance. But in the short term for us, it was a reason to connect.”

She added that these videos show the importance of the arts in times of crisis.

“You’ve seen from the way the world has reacted how important music and the arts really are, because it’s the first thing people turn to for comfort,” she said.