One year ago this week, the music stopped. We had our last rehearsal. No masks. Standing shoulder to shoulder. Plenty of emotions, confusion, and fear that we might not sing together again for quite some time. That our community was somehow dissolving, disappearing with the distance that was being implemented. I was afraid. Afraid of losing this connection and the ability to make music, afraid of losing the bond that I had with the singers around me, but more than that, I was afraid that Covid might take my friends away from me.
It was an adjustment and all of the professors did everything they could to maintain a sense of “normalcy”, but the ensemble directors were in a challenging position. How does an ensemble continue to exist without being together? How do we make music without being next to each other? What are some ways that ensembles, more specifically, chamber singers, could stay connected?
I remember at the beginning of all of this distance, Dr. Megill had put together a chamber singers scavenger hunt on Zoom. I think we were all a little skeptical, but this was probably one of my favorite memories of being in his ensemble during the pandemic. It was a small gesture, but it made a huge impact.
Now that we are fortunate enough to be singing together again, I wondered what was being offered for those students who were concerned about being in an ensemble again. I asked Dr. Megill if there were opportunities for those students to remain connected to the ensemble world.
“We have an exciting series called Encore at Illinois, which is a series of 14 pre-recorded panel discussions on various topics of interest to young musicians (topics include Diversity, Creating safe spaces for LGBTQ students, How to commission a new work, Careers in Professional ensemble singing, Musical careers in the military, Teaching in urban school settings, leading ensembles for singers with special needs, etc).” You can access this YouTube channel by clicking on the word “encore”.
As you can see, our music department is doing what it can to ensure its students remain connected to the world of music, even from afar. But for those of us in the room, I wondered what Dr. Megill thought about the precautions set in place for the chamber singers. He said it felt like, “a strange combination of awesome, because I missed it so much when we couldn’t make music together, and strange, because of the adjustments of how hard it is to hear masked, and socially distanced, and outdoors. The 30-minute rehearsal length is also challenging – but I am so grateful that we here at Illinois have been able to meet live and sing together without anyone getting sick. We’re one of the few schools that’s been able to do this.”
Overall, it is clear that the choral department has a lot of strengths, even during this time of restrictions. Dr. Megill expresses great pride and gratitude for his colleagues and the students, “I’ve been so proud of the choral faculty and their single-minded insistence on pursuing what’s best for our students, not only in terms of their physical health but also in terms of their mental and emotional well-being and the depth of the education and artistic experience we are offering them, even in an unusual time. And the strength of our students is AWESOME. So little complaining – just rolling up our sleeves and making music as best we can.”
*Note: The images used for this post were provided by Scott W. Schwartz,
Archivist for Music and Fine Arts and Director Sousa Archives and Center for American Music. Scott has been working to document how ensembles have continued to make music during the pandemic. With a specific focus on bands, Scott has also captured artifacts from Jim Pugh’s jazz ensemble, Andrea Solya’s choir, and Andrew Megill’s choir. Scott has collected nearly 2,000 photographs as well as reflections from students and faculty members about their time as musicians during the pandemic. Full permission was granted to use his photos and each person in the photo was asked permission before submission.
Miranda (M.R.) Rowland
2nd year PhD student, music education