Pictured is choir director Dr. Tucker Biddlecombe’s workspace setup for editing and mixing choir audio recordings (Hustler Staff/Sophie Heinz)
Pictured is choir director Dr. Tucker Biddlecombe’s workspace setup for editing and mixing choir audio recordings (Hustler Staff/Sophie Heinz)

Finding My Voice: How COVID-19 has changed what performance will look like in the Blair School of Music

With the new COVID-19 safety guidelines in place, the Blair School of Music has successfully created new performance opportunities for students utilizing technology.

September 9, 2020

(Photo courtesy Sophie Heinz)

Walking around campus, I have flashbacks to last year, remembering the times when we could be close to one another without any fear of getting sick and being put into campus quarantine. I miss going to parties with friends, being able to go to concerts on and off campus and cheering at football games. Yet, with all of the tremendous tragedy caused by coronavirus this year, I sometimes feel selfish for mourning the loss of a normal college experience. 

Due to the nature of a music education, much of this learning has had to adapt drastically to fit the current circumstances. Some may remember the news back in March of a choir from Mount Vernon, Washington, named Skagit Valley Chorale, where roughly 60 singers practiced together for a couple of hours before coronavirus guidelines became strict. Soon after, the choir learned that 53 of its members had contracted coronavirus. Two died. This event led to in-depth research, which concluded that singing, as well as playing certain brass and wind instruments, produces respiratory aerosols (droplets of spit) at higher rates than most other activities. In response to this research, my education and performance opportunities as a singer have drastically adapted and changed. 

For instance, my personal voice lessons are online in order to ensure the safety of my teacher. Vanderbilt’s University Singers, the largest choir on campus, is also completely online. This is particularly challenging for choir because so much of what we do is dependent on blending and listening to one another in the same room. Thankfully, I am a part of Vanderbilt Chorale and, due to its smaller size, we have been able to meet in a hybrid fashion. Nevertheless, we still have to individually record our final product, which denies us the comfort of singing in a group. 

My choir director, Dr. Tucker Biddlecombe, like many other choir teachers and musicians across the country, had to swiftly learn how to use technology to blend the audio recordings of each singer within the choir in order to create an admirable presentation of our semester’s work. These recordings are increasingly important now because in-person performances are clearly infeasible for the foreseeable future. Therefore, Biddlecombe has decided to innovatively create a video wherein our voices play alongside visual elements which show the story of the piece. Similarly, the fall opera, Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, is now an animated production. Each cast member records audio for their parts and has a greenscreen video taken of their faces for a professional animator to culminate into a film of the show. 

Although coronavirus has triggered a series of unfortunate circumstances this year, the opportunities I just described are extremely exciting and, interestingly enough, we have the coronavirus to thank for motivating teachers and students alike to utilize the expansive technology available to them for new performance platforms. 

While this semester has been full of change and uncertainty, there are also many amazing creations in the works at Blair, specifically in regards to our upcoming technological performances. I appreciate the efforts made by Blair and all of Vanderbilt to create the best environment possible for such a challenging year. Of course, I desperately wish our lives could go back to how they were, but this year will make us more resilient for a future that promises exciting new opportunities and changes. 

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