Ingenuity — along with technical know-how, 1,000 feet of microphone cable, an FM radio transmitter, four sound boards, seven speakers, two stereos, a lot of small rooms, and perseverance — were required for EMHS Touring Choir to rehearse safely indoors this winter.
After last fall semester’s Touring Choir section rehearsed outdoors, this semester’s choir members rehearsed together in separate practice rooms, dressing rooms and hallways connected by mic cables and equipped with speakers.
The rooms were each wired with speakers so students could hear Jared Stutzman, choir director, and each other without the sound delay characteristic of online platforms. From the classroom, Stutzman managed the piano, distance learning students on the big screen, and the feed to eight students on his soundboard and laptop.
Watch a video that shows the set up.
Setting up the configuration took Stutzman approximately 15 hours and into the early morning hours at the start of the semester. “With the weather making it impossible to sing outside, I needed to find a way for us to sing inside. It was important that I get it set up before my two-week paternity leave, so that my substitute (Sue Swartz — thanks Sue!) could facilitate singing with the choir while I was out.” Jared, his wife Rebekah and three big sisters welcomed baby Lev Raleigh to the family February 4.
“It wasn’t an ideal system, but it worked. It was really neat to be able to sing together inside without delays. Students could even take their masks off to sing, because they were each in a separate enclosed space.”
Warmer weather and updated school guidelines for COVID safety protocol prompted Stutzman to take down the music-making system last week. The group is now able to sing outside and inside (with masks) with a 6 foot, rather than 10 foot, distance between them.
EMS administrators and teachers have referred to guidelines from Centers for Disease Control, Virginia Department of Health and, particularly, the “Colorado Study” for best practices for singing during COVID. “This study is the seminal research conducted by experts that provides guidance on choral and instrumental music in schools during the pandemic,” explains Justin King, high school principal.
Forty-one students took part in Touring Choir this academic year over the two-semester schedule. The 4×4 block schedule has meant that the full group wasn’t able to be enrolled at the same time at any point in the year. Their first opportunity to sing together will occur during the school’s annual out-of-the classroom E-term experience April 19-21. The choir will meet for outdoor rehearsal sessions at Highland Retreat Center in Bergton. Several outdoor spring concerts at local churches are planned, though the spring touring season will be limited in comparison to past years.
“COVID has been especially hard on the performing arts,” says Stutzman. The entire spring 2020 Touring Choir program schedule was cancelled, as was the group’s biennial European tour, which would have taken place in June 2020 in the UK, Netherlands, and Germany. “It’s taken most of the year to figure out ways to sing together meaningfully, but with the weather warming up and some concerts planned, we have a lot of hope and joy about this spring.”