After a year of singing on Zoom and for each other, the Illinois Wesleyan concert choirs will perform at their first in-person concert on October 24.
IWU’s University and Collegiate choirs will have the chance to fill the Wesley United Methodist Church in Bloomington with friends and family to hear their fall repertoire.
According to director J. Scott Ferguson, the choirs had a difficult time last year figuring out exactly how they could rehearse together and concerts for the public were out of the question due to COVID regulations at the time.
Students in the choirs were attempting to sing with masks, stand far apart and reduce the number of singers in smaller rooms. They would also often have to change venues mid-rehearsal to accommodate shorter rehearsal periods, and, when they could get the weather to cooperate, they would sing outside in a tent.
“It affected the amount of music we could learn and the level of refinement of the music we were able to achieve,” Ferguson said.
University choir president and senior Isabel Sperry said that the opportunity to perform for others had been an incentive for the students to work hard on their music because they haven’t had a real audience in front of them in more than a year.
“We all want this concert to be our best because it’s sort of like our re-introduction of the choirs,” Sperry said.
Although the transition was difficult, Ferguson said that the spring semester was better, because the choirs were getting used to singing with masks.
“But we still followed the same COVID protocol, so everything seemed to move more slowly,” Ferguson said.
The choirs pre-recorded a spring concert that was very successful. A video of a piece the Collegiate Choir performed was selected for inclusion at the upcoming biennial conference of the National Collegiate Choral Organization.
“Unfortunately, for the first time in decades, the Collegiate Choir could not perform its annual concert tour during spring break. We also missed the annual Christmas Choral Concert, which has been a major community event for many years,” Ferguson said.
The Collegiate Choir usually goes abroad for the duration of IWU’s spring break and will perform at choir festivals all over the world. In past years, the choir has visited South Africa, Canada and Poland.
“We were flying back from South Africa when COVID started to become a real serious threat, and everyone was so stressed out, so it’s a weird last memory of our tours,” senior Alexis Ries said.
This year, because they’re all vaccinated, they’re standing about four feet apart but continue to wear masks when singing. Ferguson said that the choirs are following IWU’s COVID guidelines as well those suggested by professional choral organizations such as the American Choral Directors Association.
“Performing for an audience is such a different experience, and I can’t wait to get to connect with the people in the crowd because it’s been a long time,” Sperry said.
According to Ferguson, there is a significant difference between presenting a live-streamed or pre-recorded concert and having a live audience for the performer and listener. “Performing by ourselves is essentially a recording session,” Ferguson said.
Pitch and duration are captured, and although the audience can see the performers, the element of presence is missing in terms of the acoustical properties of the room, the ability to connect with the singers’ faces individually and collectively, and, most importantly feeling the response to the music.
The conductor’s gesture, the choir’s sound, and the audience’s reception of that sound are unable to be reproduced in a recording.
“When we see people react to our music it transforms the experience, and when audience members feel and hear others react to the music it changes their experience as well,” Ferguson said.
At the upcoming concert, attendees will be asked to wear masks and masks will be provided. The concert will begin at 3:00 p.m. and is free to attend.