AVS overcomes challenges to continue producing music

Despite social distancing, SJC’s Advanced Vocal Studies group is managing to continue producing music despite being physically separated. The Sabre interviewed both Ms. Fernandez, the leader of the choir program, and Annie Phan ‘20 about their experience so far.

Annie Phan ‘20

Q: What is the process for putting together music from far apart? What kind of technology has been helping with this?

A: We’ve been working with songs we have already learned in the past and are familiar with so it’s easier to get the music together quicker. We’ve been filming ourselves singing and Mr. Hotaling the theatre director has been doing all the editing and video making. 


Q: Is there anything you would change about how AVS is operating right now?

A: Honestly just being able to see each other in person, but obviously that won’t happen for a while. 


Q: Favorite memory from AVS?

A: Probably singing “Tabula Rasa” during my first year of AVS and learning from the older members of AVS. Also creating friendships with younger or newer members of AVS. 


Q: As a senior, is there anything you’re going to miss about the group after the year is over, or anything you feel like you’re missing out on from home?

A: I will definitely miss the welcoming atmosphere of AVS. I would say we are almost like a family where we all have different interests and passions outside of singing, but we all still support and love each other. 


Q: What should we expect from AVS in the coming weeks?

A: Expect a virtual choir coming soon! It’s our first try at this so we hope it works out, fingers crossed!


Ms. Fernandez 


Q: What are some of the main challenges of trying to lead this group from a distance?

A: We literally can’t hear each other at all, ever. This can be really sad and disheartening, but also really difficult. Any time we’ve been rehearsing, we usually have to mute all voices except one, which is usually mine. We’ve also done some sectionals and small groups where everyone except one person is muted and the group has to work together on one passage or phrase. It’s really vulnerable and different singing into a device and having people stare at you instead of singing next to someone. It’s hard to describe why, but it might be easy to understand for students after having zoom classes, where it might be harder to speak up in class.


Q: What is the process for putting together music from far apart? What kind of technology has been helping with this?

A: Here’s where you need to give a BIG shout out to our NEW Theater Director: Mr. Luc Hotaling. He compiled and edited all of our individual videos to help us create our virtual choir experience. Sadly so many people think it’s as simple as everyone hopping on ZOOM and singing. It’s not. It’s a process that truly takes hours of time (we’re talking a part time equivalent) spent staring at a computer and mastering several programs that I am not familiar with.  Logic Pro X (stronger version of GarageBand), Movavi Video editor (stronger version of iMovie), and several others like them. Students also need access to multiple devices in order to create a video for one of these – so having an iPad and a phone to use together has been a blessing!


Q: Is there anything you have found to be helpful in keeping AVS’ sense of close knit community?

A: With them, meeting every day in some capacity. We agreed to meet after school to give ourselves a little more flexibility. Our meet time is not required, and a majority of the kids are there every day. Really we just use that time right now to walk about how we’re doing, strategies we’re using to keep ourselves on task, and testing out ideas for virtual choir. The kids have given me feedback on my virtual conducting and how to make it better and clearer. In our other chorus classes I’ve been zooming with them two to three times a week just to see their faces. We’re using our time to work on technique using theory and techniques. We’ve also just done some silly games, google polls, family feud, fun Friday’s, and shared memes, which have become a whole other part of performance art. Describing how memes and gifs and videos have become their own types of performance art are a nice way to discuss performing without being able to perform together.


Q: What should we expect from AVS in the coming weeks?

A: AVS did successfully figure out how to create a virtual choir with Mr. Hotaling’s help. The first video that’s going to come out is a teaser of us seeing if this will work. About nine or ten students contributed and it worked! The magic is the only thing they heard was the tic of a metronome. They were given one pitch and the pitch of a metronome, and that was it. Most virtual choir videos have an audio backing that students are listening to to stay in tune so I am unbelievably impressed with what these kids were able to achieve with just a video of me conducting and a metronome tick. Once we had that success we decided to tackle the whole song. The song is “Stand by Me” and we convinced Mr. Camillo to create a backing track for us in order to allow us to sing for three to four minutes and stay in tune. So Mr. Camillo created a backing track on the piano and we synced it with my conducting video, and there’s even a key change involved. We’re hoping that video will come out in another week or two, and it will be a full arrangement of Stand By Me. Finally, we have a larger project that we just discussed this week about taking our meditation song, Let Us Remember, which is very pointedly Lasallian, and seeing if we can combine SJC choir voices that are interested and have a massive SJC virtual choir. It may not come out until the summer, but our hope is to collect these videos during exam week, so any choir student that has learned the peace and wants to contribute can. We’re hoping to create a virtual choir that can let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God and remember this time.

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