State High Chamber Choirs Through Covid-19

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Photo/Emily Stoller

A Chamber Singers rehearsal at State High in State College, PA, taken Oct. 22, 2020.

Eloise Dayrat, Staff Writer

Before school each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, either Chamber Singers or Treble Makers will be found rehearsing behind the closed doors of the State High choir room. Chamber Singers is the acapella group comprised of juniors and seniors who auditioned to receive a spot in the choir. Treble Makers is the parallel to Chamber, but is made up of freshmen and sophomores. 

Auditions for both groups took place before and after school the week of Sept. 28. Days later, the results came out, and the two groups began rehearsal the week of Oct. 5.

The singers who auditioned and are partaking in these acapella groups, when asked about their stance on safety, all replied with reassuring statements.

“I have my own space six-plus feet away from others and surgical, not cloth, masks are being worn at all times. Beyond that, rehearsals are slightly shorter than previous years to allow for less possible exposure time,” said junior Chris Cole, who is a tenor in Chamber Singers this year.

Both the audition process and rehearsals were modified to ensure the safety of everyone present. Sophomore Ireland McDyre, who sings alto in Treble Makers, explained some safety measures taken during the audition process. 

“Mr. Clayton was wearing an N95 mask and then we had on our ‘singing masks,’” McDyre said. “We sang for like 30-40 minutes and after we were done we put them in a Ziploc bag. I guess we didn’t get to sing together as much. He was just trying to get us to know [the piece] faster so that we could get it over with quicker because of COVID.”

The biggest factors tied to the spread of COVID are distance, time, and of course, mask-wearing. Masks were worn at all times during both auditions and are being worn at all times during rehearsals, as Cole and McDyre mentioned. 

“The main difference was that there were a lot more audition times to allow for as few people in the room at a time as possible,” Cole explained. 

During the audition process, there were at maximum 16 singers in the room. Now, during rehearsals, both Chamber Singers and Treble Makers have 18 singers each in the same room. 

“There were no callbacks this year either, but I’m not sure how unusual that is,” Cole added on. Having no callbacks meant that no singers were brought back for a second round of auditions. 

An essential aspect of being in a small ensemble is being near each other in order to work more efficiently and hear each other well. However, with the state of COVID, the choirs can do no such thing. 

“I mean, obviously last year we were more in our parts and we could stand in a semi-circle and we could stand close to each other. This year we’re very much spread apart. We all have to be facing the front of the room,” said sophomore Madi Christopher, who sings alto in Treble Makers. She elaborated, “I do feel safe. Clay wears one of the N95 masks, so whenever he is singing and he’s facing us I don’t feel uncomfortable with that. We have specific masks for singing, and they’re the paper surgical masks. It’s not so much the idea that they’re safer or they are better, but it’s that we have one specific mask that is only for singing. The chairs and stands are all spread six feet apart on all sides and we’re all facing the front of the room … We’re not packed on the risers, we’re spread apart throughout the room.” 

The chamber choirs have brought a modified version of what used to be their “normal.” 

“I feel like it[chamber choirs] will help bring back a little bit of normal, if that makes sense. Music was such a prevalent thing in my life last year. I was in many different ensembles. But this year most of them have been canceled [or] postponed to the spring. So currently I’m in no choir groups. Just being in this ensemble will help bring back that music that I once had in my life and help me find a normal again. A new normal,” said Joe Peters, a sophomore singing tenor in Treble Makers.

Cole shared a similar sentiment. 

“I am fully remote so typically the only people I see all day long are my immediate family members. I really like being able to be with other people and being able to live life at least somewhat normally even if it is only twice a week,” Cole said. 

In March, the chamber choirs were required to go online. Cole explained the impact that this had on him personally. 

“I was finding it somewhat hard to enjoy making music, to be honest. It wasn’t the same without the rest of the ensemble. I think a lot of what makes music so fun is the social interactions and the clean final products we get to produce. While we made some pretty cool things virtually, they weren’t the same as performing live. I’m glad I stuck it out though, because I am very excited for this year,” Cole said. 

The beginning of quarantine led to slight irritation amongst all the singers. Due to COVID and how it was handled, the choirs were unable to return to their normal status before this school year came around. 

“[It was difficult] for some seniors, because they wanted those extra opportunities going into auditions for college and stuff. But I think the rest of us were just kinda bummed out, because we wanted to perform and we had some good songs that we wanted to sing. But we had to scrap those and come up with new ones,” McDyre said. 

Peters, Cole, McDyre, and Christopher all expressed their eagerness to now be able to rehearse in person. Although there were feelings of excitement, the singers also explained a few struggles they’ve encountered so far in rehearsal.

“There [are] still some problems with hearing vowels and stuff, it can get annoying,” McDyre said.

“It’s hard to hear other people on your part if they’re not close to you. I’m in between a tenor and a bass and the altos are in front of me. So that’s a little bit tough,” Christopher said.

“We are much more spread out than we were last year and we have masks on. These both present their own challenges as trying to blend with someone on the other side of the room is rather difficult. The masks aren’t an issue, pretty much just a minor annoyance, but we are much safer this way,” Cole remarked. 

As Cole mentioned, how the chamber choirs are carrying through with COVID precautions can bring small annoyances. Despite this, the singers understand that it is what is necessary, and in the end they are just happy to be back singing with each other. 

“I was so excited when I heard that Clay was doing Chamber Choirs because it had been like seven months since I had [sung] in any type of ensemble or any type of choir, just with any group of people. I was so thrilled and I just think it’ll be so nice, even if it’s like a 45-minute rehearsal, to just have that moment during my week where I can just go and sing and be with my people,” Christopher said. 

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