by Tyler Dawson
This past year has been quite the rollercoaster for the community, country and the world. It seems as though COVID has affected the Plattsburgh area in particular, being a college town. Students are mostly in hybrid learning formats and the halls have a sense of emptiness. Myers Fine Arts Building— where music would float through the halls and echo throughout the staircases— have seen a drastic change in the past year. The college ensembles, Symphonic Band, Concert Choir, and Gospel Choir at SUNY Plattsburgh have seen quite the change in performance, accessibility and safety. After discussions with each of these ensemble directors, it was clear that there was some struggle from the current situation.
“Last summer was really strange. Nobody knew what the fall would look like,” Daniel Gordon, The director of the Symphonic Band said. “Will we be face to face, no face to face, hybrid? Nobody knew. So I told the class at the beginning of the semester that we were going to have to figure this out together.”
Having discussed the impact of COVID on performing, Gordon said in the first or second week, the directors came up with the idea to do a COVID-related concert.
“Since we were all silenced by music, we decided to perform John Cage’s silent piece 4’33” Gordon said. “We also did John Cage’s Living Room Music. What a perfect piece! We can’t go anywhere and we can do it with our masks on!”
Gordon said the 4’33” piece was just four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence and the Living Room Music is a piece consisting of just household instruments that they could easily find at home. This semester, the plan for the Symphonic Band is to have a “COVID Concert” as a follow up to their performance last semester. Gordon further explained “It (COVID) totally changed the way we do things and we came up with some really good ideas. I do have to say, I am really proud of the students here.”
The Concert Choir, under the direction of Professor Timothy Morningstar, faced different challenges.
“We prepared one piece and we had rehearsals in 300 with masks,” Morningstar said. “We split one day live and the other on Zoom. On Zoom I would work in sectionals, just sopranos or basses.”
Morningstar spoke of how tedious it was to do the same piece over and over again over the course of the semester. The benefit was that there was a final product which was recorded and streamed with a target at the end of it. Morningstar said that last semester was “reimagined, reenvisioned, and reinvented. Since we found a mechanism that works, we are able to increase the amount of music this semester.” Morningstar finished by saying how students have really stepped up especially music students and engaged. “As professors, we provide the tools and a lot of reimagining. But in my opinion, it is the students who should be applauded because of their commitment. It would be easier for everyone to say ‘I want to stay at home and do it remote’ but our music students are very committed to making music.”
Concert Choir isn’t the only choir on campus. In fact, the Gospel Choir consists of the most members between the community and students. Doctor Dexter Criss, director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Gospel Choir, says that “it has been a slippery slope for all of the arts and performing groups, even before COVID.” Criss said how gut-wrenching it was to say to his choir members that he might not see them again in class. The Gospel Choir started back in the fall in which it was split into two pods. The first section was the students and the second was the community members. “In its heyday, we would have 100 members in the choir and that would be about 80 students. As of right now, we have 20 students in the students pod and roughly 25 community members.” Criss said most of the community members in the choir including himself have been vaccinated and that the choir is face to face as of right now. “I can’t remember the last time I faced a person singing with a mask off,” Criss said.
The impact of the pandemic has been hard on the community. Whether it is gathering for an ensemble, going to class, or eating, the coronavirus has taken a toll on everyone. With vaccines rolling out, we would like to think the end is near. The community is hopeful that soon, the pandemic will be over and normalcy can be restored.