Vocal ensembles refuse to let COVID-19 stop the music

Groups such as Concert Chorale, Collegiate Singers and Frequency have found ways to safely continue their musical journeys.

Groups such as Concert Chorale, Collegiate Singers and Frequency have found ways to safely continue their musical journeys.

Troy University’s choral ensembles are finding unique ways to showcase and hone their talents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Diane Orlofsky, Director of Choirs and Conductor of Concert Chorale, and Scott Sexton, Conductor for Frequency and Collegiate Singers, knew the pandemic would pose challenges for students this semester.

“We read the handwriting on the wall early and went into overdrive, as did most music instructors, so we spent the summer attending webinars and talking to as many experts as we could,” said Orlofsky. “We were in high gear this summer to try to figure out how to do this, if we could, safely. The silver lining was the profession came together in a way I’ve never seen it come together before in sharing of materials, knowledge and best practices.”

While all areas of the university were affected by COVID-19, singers faced even greater challenges.

“Back in the summer, the gloom reality was that singing was one of the most dangerous things one could do during this pandemic,” Sexton said. “However, because of our safety policies, we have made it through the semester without any major outbreaks in our ensembles.”

Those safety policies go even further than the TROY Strong guidelines that apply to the University as a whole.

For instance, while the usual guidance for social distancing is to remain six feet apart, singers must maintain at least 10 feet of distance.

“Best practices for choirs [recommend] 10 feet of social distancing,” Orlofsky said. “Class sessions are no more than 30 to 40 minutes. We cannot even meet an entire class period due to ventilation cycles. We’ve rehearsed outside as well. We do not sit, we stand.”

Orlofsky’s Concert Chorale, consisting of 36 students, was divided into two groups for this semester, alternating meeting on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Fridays, the entire group gathered at Park Memorial United Methodist Church for a socially distanced practice.

Students must wear masks while they sing, which has been an adjustment.

“We’ve really tried to examine this from every angle, keeping kids as safe as we can and meeting our musical objectives,” Orlofsky said. “I think we’ve met those objectives and far exceeded them. We’ve made audio recordings. We’ve made a promotional video. I’ve been so pleased with how hard the kids have worked. They’re getting used to singing through masks. They’re all compliant, working hard outside class on Zoom together. It’s really been better than I could’ve hoped.”

Sexton has seen the same commitment in his students.

“I am in awe of how the students have gracefully and masterfully navigated making beautiful and meaningful music in spite of the challenges of the semester,” Sexton said. “There are some positive elements of our situation. In Collegiates, we have been able to rehearse and sing repertoire involving smaller groups that we wouldn’t typically be able to do in a normal semester. In Frequency, we have found that the intimate nature of singing with this group was not lost and that the challenges have only made their bond and cohesiveness as a group even stronger.”

Though the experience has been positive, there’s no doubt it has been different.

“At times it feels a little three-ring-circus-like, but it works,” Orlofsky said. “I feel like a football coach at times.”

While the spring and summer saw some remote musical performances, nothing can match the feeling of musicians performing together, Orlofsky said.

“We so missed making music together,” she said. “The first time we put everybody together, the excitement and gratitude was powerful. That alone is worth it. We’ve had goosebump moments. I’m so proud of our students. We did the prep work, they trusted we knew what we were talking about, that we had their best interests and safety first and foremost.”