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This year has challenged many musicians and singers to creatively find ways to keep music alive. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the switch to remote learning, and all the safety precautions needed to keep in-person singing safe, Dr. Hugh Hinton, has had to reimagine Merrimack’s Concert Choir and Schola ensembles for this year.
As the Director of Campus Music, Dr. Hinton changed and adapted his approach to these ensembles by utilizing technology. Prior to the pandemic both ensembles were rehearsing and performing entirely in person, “as choirs have done for hundreds of years,” Dr. Hinton notes. “While we all desperately miss singing live in person in a large group, I believe that we will be able to carry on in a viable way during this time with creative use of technology, and I will plan to continue to incorporate technology in ensembles post-pandemic,” he says.
To meet the rehearsal needs of the choirs, Dr. Hinton began using an online music notation software that allows all students to have access to the musical scores. Dr. Hinton is able to use this to create individual practice tracks for each voice part that the students can then use to rehearse with asynchronously. This gives students the ability to slow down and speed up the practice tracks, which Dr. Hinton says, “can aid learning,.” Since each part is entered separately into the system, students have the option to sing alongside other voice parts in a duet style or even with all the tracks combined.
Dr. Hinton meets with students synchronously (like most meetings these days) on Zoom. In these online sessions, he leads full-group and sectional warmups and rehearsals. The students are muted while they sing to avoid playback, lag, and other audio issues, but are able to hear Dr. Hinton play and sing for direction. A hidden benefit to these zoom sessions is that rehearsals can be recorded and students can use them to review later. Dr. Hinton does still hold small in-person rehearsals following all safety protocols. Everyone is masked and distanced. While held in a large room, in-person rehearsals last 30 minutes and only allow for a few students to practice at once.
Though it looks like a traditional in-person concert in the Rogers Center is out of the picture this year, Concert Choir and Schola will still perform. Both ensembles will create recordings for audiences to enjoy virtually. If it sounds like an easy solution—like trying to hold rehearsals on Zoom—there is still a lot that goes on behind the scenes. To create a recording, using a track created by Dr. Hinton, the singers will record themselves remotely using iPads or cellphones. These individual tracks then are edited and synced together to create that full ensemble feeling.
Dr. Hinton plans for the Concert Choir to have a virtual performance recording ready for the public sometime in the Spring Semester. Additionally, Schola will start offering vocal music at Mass in a variety of formats on a regular basis.