You might think that, given the limits of technology, group music classes, like team athletics, would be suffering the most during these demanding times. Yet James Wallace, director of music and art department head at St. Mark's, has kept the School's music program going by looking ahead.
"The joy of making music in ensembles is about 50 percent music making and 50 percent camaraderie and creative collaboration," says Mr. Wallace (pictured top left). "After all, chorus literally means 'together'. 'Symphony' means harmony or concord—sounds blending together. Removing the 'togetherness' may seem at first to be not very satisfying, but individual preparation will put us in good stead for the future."
In choir, Mr. Wallace has sent out music to all III, IV, and V Form choir members. They are learning Stanford's "Beati Quorum," Darke's "Let all mortal flesh," Tin's "Baba Yetu," and the Zulu folk song "Jabula Jesu." Students are recording their parts individually and submitting them to Mr. Wallace, who has already seen and heard some 200 videos over the past month.
The VI Form members of the choir are working individually to learn and practice a single song, which will be recorded for performance at the virtual Baccalaureate and Prize Day ceremonies this June. It will be produced as a 'mosaic video' like the ones that have become prevalent online in recent weeks. "People see the mosaic videos online and believe that those people are all singing together," says Mr. Wallace, "but that's an illusion. Good technology does not yet exist for groups to perform simultaneously from different locations and hear each other in real time over the internet." The issue is the varying lag times in the online stream—a problem known as "latency". So mosaic videos, whether instrumental or vocal, are all recorded individually and mixed together after the fact, which is what Mr. Wallace will be doing for the end-of-year remote celebrations.
Similar to the ensemble performers, the individual Music Studio offerings are doing the same thing: taking private lessons via Zoom and recording practice/progress videos each week. Some students are using the opportunity to expand their repertoires and to offer their music in a more public forum, albeit remotely. Waverly Shi '21 (pictured top right), a V Form violinist, has created a YouTube gallery of her recordings, entitled "Journey Through Music" which she has shared with the St. Mark's community. "I think that music is truly a way for people to connect even when we are all apart," she says. "It can make us feel like we are not alone or isolated from the world around us. Through this playlist, I hope that more people can appreciate music in all different forms and genres and understand its many benefits."
Waverly—along with other students, faculty, and staff—has helped provide some music for the twice-weekly St. Mark's chapel services, still every Tuesday and Friday mornings at 8:00, but now remotely on Zoom and recorded so they are available to all members of the School community, whatever time zone they might be in. Mr. Wallace has been working hard to arrange for musical preludes and presentations, as well as hymns, for each service.
Overall, he says, "we're all doing the best we can with what we have. The wonderful thing is that the students are still making music, even if it's on their own in their bedrooms singing into their computers. Even in a time of crisis learning, music still has emotional power for the music makers."