By Claire Mcfadden
The Virtual Showcase for the College’s Fall 2020 Ensembles streamed live on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. through the School of Arts and Communication’s Facebook and Youtube accounts, illuminating the perseverance and creativity of the music department through an unusual semester.
Hundreds of viewers watched the showcase and commented their appreciation and delight throughout the show.
“(The night was a) testament to the power of music to connect across divides of all kinds,” said Dr. Colleen Sears, music department chair, who co-hosted the event with Choral Director Dr. John Leonard. Sears and Leonard hosted the event live from a strangely empty Mayo Hall.
The College Choir opened the event with Keith Hampton’s “True Light,” which could have fittingly been the title of the entire showcase.
“Everyone’s been working really hard to make sure that it's a cohesive project,” said Megan Sholette, a sophomore vocal music education major and one of the singers in the choir. “They’ve done a great job of making it seem like we’re one group and not individual people.”
As the audio of the singers’ voices played, the screen displayed videos of the students recording themselves from home, and a small group singing socially distanced on campus through masks.
Each of the ensembles employed a variation of this virtual sense of togetherness, and was made possible by a team of College student videographers.
The intimacy of music and meaning was not lost in the virtual setting. The Concert Band’s performance of Steven Bryant’s “In This Broad Earth” featured clips of each member of the band saying what they believed to be “the seed for perfection.”
Each student met the eyes of the viewer and expressed the importance of love, family, peace, ambition, laughter, positivity, harmony, liberation, friendship, resilience and togetherness, all of which have been a source of strength and hope this past year.
The percussion ensemble performed John Cage’s “Living Room music,” which is a blend of beats made by using furniture and common objects such as tables, couches, metal water bottles, pencils and bowls for instruments.
Another highlight of the night was the Honors Orchestra and Chorus’ rendition of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The piece was arranged for an orchestra by Shrish Jawadiwar, a senior political science and music double major, who is also a string bassist for the wind ensemble.
“We’ve had to reimagine how we think about music,” Jawadiwar said. “Essentially I’m trying to be a sound engineer and musician at once.”
Latency with microphones had to be compensated for by meticulous editing. The spatial element of staggering of instruments onstage (percussion behind the brass, woodwinds and strings up front) is lost when individually recording at home.
“The high ceilings of Mayo Hall give each note a resonance” Jawadiwar said. “You can only get so far emulating that on digital software.”
However, it was hard to tell that the show’s audio was stitched together like a technological quilt.
The Wind Ensemble’s performance of “Splinter” was a complex piece featuring crunchy chords, unnerving crescendos and decrescendos that fit the dark themes of 2020.
Director of Bands Dr. Eric Laprade found the benefit of meticulous editing. "One of the beautiful parts of live performance is that it lives in the moment,” Laprade said. “But a silver lining of the remote semester was being able to listen to each student individually and develop a deeper understanding of their musicianship."
The Jazz Ensemble excelled with a rendition of Bruno Mars’ 2016 hit “Chunky,” which was composed by saxophonists and junior music education majors Ryan Haupt and Nick Napier.
Haupt and Napier made instrumental jazz sound cool to even the casual pop listener. Haupt is grateful to have been able to collaborate with his peers virtually, but is looking forward to making music in person again.
“So much of being a musician is playing with your friends and in ensembles,” Haupt said. “But we’re lucky music is a language that transcends boundaries with the impact it can have.”
TCNJ Chorale closed out the night with Moses Hogan’s “This Little Light of Mine.” Featuring soloists Hannah Stratton, a sophomore vocal music education major, and Adarsh Varghese, a freshman biology major, the Chorale’s performance called for students to lift up and empower others by fighting for equality and justice.
The Fall 2020 Virtual Showcase exhibited the resiliency and resourcefulness of every student and staff member of the College’s music department.
Dr. Leonard expressed, from a temporarily empty Mayo Hall, the resounding message of the night, that “music matters. It’s not secondary, and it will not be sidelined.”