Those studying or pursuing a career in music have been hit especially hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. Current times have forced us all to adapt to the “new normal” at a rapid pace. At SUNY Plattsburgh, music students and staff have refused to allow the pandemic to hold them back. They continue to work to come up with alternative, COVID-safe performances and rehearsals. As a result of their efforts, the Department of Music released their virtual Music Extravaganza on multiple streaming platforms Nov. 23.
The Fall 2020 Music Extravaganza is unlike any concert the Department of Music has produced in the past. Under normal circumstances, music students from the many different branches of the department gather together each semester to perform at various concerts in which they are given the opportunity to showcase their talents and hard work. With the current COVID safety guidelines, holding a public concert is simply impossible. Rather than canceling the event entirely, each branch of the department created its own socially-distanced contribution to the event. All of which were strategically combined to create a concert consisting of three performance groups, four soloists, and a special performance by a graduating senior.
The event opened with a lively and energetic performance of “You’re All I Need” by the Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir under the direction of Dexter Criss. Clad in masks specifically designed for singers, each member of the choir is shown via videos they took of themselves on their phones, tablets, or other devices, giving a unique perspective that not even a live and in-person performance could provide. Right from the start, associate artistic director Andrea
Ogle is dancing and letting the music flow through her veins, donning a grin that is visible even with her mask. What makes the Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir so special is their genuine love and passion for what they do, whether it be through movement, laughter, or even the tones of their voices, there’s no hiding how much fun they are having. Seeing each member of the choir as they sing and dance really allows one to become fully immersed in the music— you can almost feel their energy coming through the screen.
The setting changes at the end of the gospel choir’s performance and we are taken to the stage on which pianist Bach Do performs the first movement of J.S. Bach’s Italian Concerto. Transitioning from the exuberant choral performance to a piano soloist could be difficult for most, but Do executes the transition flawlessly and breathes life into the piano as if it were a part of himself. Although the piece is not as upbeat as “You’re All I Need”, Do is no stranger to mesmerizing his audience through his passionate piano playing. Just through his body language and mannerisms alone, his passion for music is clear to the eye and the ear.
Following Do’s brilliant performance, Lucas Smith takes the same stage to perform two vocal solos. Gracing the stage with a confident smile, Smith performs his rendition of John Dowland’s “Come Again.” Though it may be soft, Smith’s magnificent voice carries a unique power that few vocalists are capable of. Without wasting a second, Smith smoothly transitions into his next piece, “Sebben, crudele” by Italian composer Antonio Caldara. If singing in your native language is a challenge, singing in a language completely foreign to you is nearly impossible— but not for Smith. Smith performs Caldara’s piece so smoothly, it is impossible to know that he doesn’t speak the language at all.
The next performance by the symphonic band, under the direction of Daniel Gordon, is unlike any band performance most have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The band takes the “stage” via a Zoom call with each performer in what appears to be their own living rooms. If that wasn’t already strange enough, they are all wearing masks— and they do not remove them when Gordon raises his baton to begin conducting their first piece, John Cage’s “4’33.””
Upon first watching the performance, it was a bit confusing. Fully expecting to see the masks being removed followed by the sounds of the band’s instruments flowing together, there is nothing but silence. I began to wonder if maybe the video had frozen after about a minute of this, only for Gordon to signal the musicians to put their instruments down and end the movement. Just a moment later the second movement begins in the same fashion as the first, and before I knew it, they had reached the end of the third and final movement. Gordon stands and takes a bow, then directs the band to do the same.
After rewatching the band’s performance a second time, the significance of the piece became apparent. Cage’s “4’33”” is, as the name suggests, four minutes and thirty-three seconds of complete silence. In regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, this piece perfectly represents how the music industry has been silenced. With a much smaller band than usual, the symphonic band at Plattsburgh State was incredibly limited in their instrumentation, thus making it near impossible to not only perform safely but to find pieces that worked with the instruments they had.
This brings us to the band’s next piece, another composition by Cage, “Living Room Music.” This piece is performed by the band simply tapping on objects in their living rooms.
The third piece performed by the band is an original piece composed by Daniel Gordon himself, titled “COVID-19 Lament.”
As all of the performers in the Music Extravaganza had to get creative with their performances, Gordon took his creativity to a new level and composed this original piece specifically for the band’s instrumentation at the time.
“I was really pleased with how we put our heads together to come up with a creative and effective solution,” Gordon said in regard to the band’s obscure performance. To bring their performance to a close, the symphonic band performs Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music”. Reich’s piece is composed purely of claps which, when brought together, are a representation of an audience’s applause— and boy, did they earn that applause.
George Hearn takes us back to the actual stage with an energetic performance of L. van Beethoven’s Sonata Op.31 no. 2 “Tempest” Movement I, Largo-Allegro. Right from the start, Hearn’s performance is utterly mesmerizing. With rapid dynamic changes and a fast tempo, Hearn seems to embody Beethoven’s spirit and uncanny musical ability.
Not many can successfully pull off a performance of “I Feel Pretty” (West Side Story) by Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim, but Miranda Velez does so almost effortlessly. With a huge grin and expressive hand movements, Velez’s performance bleeds confidence and enthusiasm. Like Smith, Velez also performs an Italian piece, Giacomo Carissimi’s “Vittoria”. With this piece, Velez is able to show off her expansive vocal range, shocking the audience with her impressive upper register and breath control.
The second to last performance comes from the Plattsburgh State Concert Choir, under the direction of Timothy Morningstar. The choir performs “Ave Verum Corpus KV. 618” by W.A. Mozart in a somewhat unconventional way: each member of the chorus individually recorded their part and they were all combined at the end to create the final product. Without this knowledge, it is nearly impossible to tell that the choir was not in the same room. Their voices blend together seamlessly, creating an almost-angelic-sounding piece.
Finally, the show comes to a close with the grand finale: senior Jill Chase’s senior recital. Chase, an experienced vocalist and actress, performs ten songs from multiple different musicals, beginning with Alan Menken’s “Watch What Happens” from the popular musical Newsies. Simply from watching Chase’s performance, it is clear that she is a natural-born performer. Although she is on the stage alone, she performs with such energy and expression that it almost seems like she is singing to or with another person. This energy doesn’t falter for even a second throughout her entire recital, and if anything, it grows stronger when she graces the stage with her two guest performers Mason Barber and Caleb Eugley.
Overall, SUNY Plattsburgh’s Fall 2020 Music Extravaganza was exhilarating. During a very uncertain and confusing time in which we have seen many musical events canceled, the musicians at Plattsburgh State prove that there is nothing that can hold them back.