Choir making music in virtual time

Courtesy photos

HARLINGEN — And the show must go on.

Even in lockdown, the singers in the Harlingen High School South Choir are preparing for their fall concert — in virtual time.

“I personally am handling this really well,” said Adam Ramos, 16, a junior.

“I am getting my instructors’ schedules,” he said. “I am getting everything situated. It’s pretty easy to keep myself focused. Everything’s on one website.”

Since the Harlingen school district began its first day of school Sept. 8, all instruction has taken place online. This presents notable challenges for any subject, but in the performance arts such as band and choir, the difficulty is even more evident. Each singer is Zooming in to class from a different location.

But that hasn’t stopped the Harlingen South choir, said Jesus Morales, instructor.

“I can tell you that classes for us have kind of continued just like they would normally,” Morales said last week. “The kids were feeling it, but they have adapted now. In their second week of school, they are adapting to their new virtual classroom.”

That adapting includes preparing four pieces for the Texas Music Educators Association’s Texas All-State auditions, said Sylvia Flores, assistant director.

“The district auditions are happening about a month from now,” Flores said. “The music for that is also serving as our fall concert music, so it has a dual purpose.”

So how does that work?

“Every time we start class we treat it just like it was a regular class,” Morales said. “We start with our normal routines, our warm-ups, our stretches, whatever we need to do.”

The students, he said, are acclimating well to their new virtual classroom. However, the obvious hindrances have presented a fine test for everyone.

“The biggest difficulty is that the students don’t get to experience that sense of community singing together,” Morales said. “They miss being with each other. They miss being around each other. They miss making music together. And unfortunately the biggest drawback to this is that they can’t hear each other.”

While Adam is handling the situation well, he concedes the hardships are real.

“It’s challenging because if I have a question anytime besides class time, it’s hard that I can’t go talk to that teacher or go after school,” Adam said. “I have to set an appointment or email that teacher and wait for a response hours later.”

Likewise, Vanessa Guerra, 17, misses the connection of close contact.

“I feel like with virtual choir a lot of those moments that we create together don’t exactly happen as often, like our musical moments where we really feel like we are connecting to our music,” said Vanessa, choir president. “Our choir program has dealt with that situation, and I feel like we are trying our very best to connect with everybody.”

Vanessa, a senior, spoke at length about the importance of an extra measure of discipline to succeed in virtual choir.

“You have to really just push yourself to actually participate,” said Vanessa, who sings alto 2.

“I feel like because we’re through a Zoom call and we’re muted and we’re on our own and we’re in our homes you just have to have the discipline to really practice on your own,” she said.

Separate from the hardships of virtual learning, students are nevertheless enjoying their fall concert music: Sleep, Ride in the Chariot, Threads of Joy and O Sing Unto the Lord.

“They’re all beautiful pieces,” Adam said. “What I enjoy about the pieces is that they are really touching. Even though some people might not see songs as sentimental I actually have a strong connection to our songs. These songs happen to be really beautiful.”

Currently everyone is working in sectionals, Vanessa explained.

“We’ve split into sectionals through a Zoom call,” she said. “They’ll play the notes and on our own in our rooms we’ll just sing along with the piano.”

And as it is in so many things, there’s a positive with the negative.

“I like it personally because we can really hear ourselves and modify ourselves rather than kind of not being able to really know what we sound like when we’re singing with everyone,” she said. “So that is a benefit of doing this virtually.”

Although the district is planning to offer some face to face instruction Oct. 5, plans are to give the fall concert in virtual time.