With New Technology & Resilience the Winter Concert Will Go On!

The joy-filled Winter Concert is always a highlight of Poly Arts in December. This year, Dan Doughty and the Performing Arts faculty have made sure that the Middle and Upper School vocalists and musicians have the opportunity to share their talents to brighten the season for us all. (Watch the performance.)

This year, parents, families, alumni, and friends are invited to a live presentation on December 11 at 7 PM of pre-recorded performances by Concert Band, Jazz Band, String Ensemble, Concert Choir, Advanced Concert Choir, Tower Singers, A Cappella, Blue Notes, and Harmonics.

Concert Choir, Advanced Concert Choir, Blue Notes

Doughty, who directs Concert Choir, Advanced Concert Choir, and Blue Notes, explained, “Music, singing in particular, has faced significant challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the concerns about spreading the virus through aerosol production. Because of these concerns, the health and safety recommendations call for singers to be masked and stand 12 feet apart. As you can imagine, singing with a mask on, 12 feet apart, makes choral singing a much different experience. One of the biggest challenges this has created is the ability to hear each other. Part of the joy of singing with a choir is to feel and hear the support of voices around you. Not being able to hear each other as well is a challenge especially for students newer to singing. A positive outcome of this situation is that students have become more independent singers and developed their close listening skills.”

“While we were on campus,” Doughty said, “we rehearsed with a lot of listening—to parts, to recordings—and light humming before spreading out to a safe distance and singing at full capacity. We had to get creative with rehearsal spaces as the entire class, spread 12-feet apart, would not fit under the tent. The bleachers, the patio outside of the fitness center, and the Malkin Terrace were some of the places we held our rehearsals.” 

Recording each part of the concert was a challenge. “For our concert pieces,” Doughty said, “we used a combination of on-campus filming and technology. Using Soundtrap, a cloud-based recording platform, students collaborated by recording and editing their parts into the final audio track for our performance. Then, while on campus, students filmed themselves lip-syncing to the tracks so that we could have a maskless visual to accompany their vocal performance. Many hours of editing later, and their concert pieces came together.”  

“Despite all of the challenges, they have made music together and maintained the collaborative spirit that is so important to our ensembles.”

Doughty is rightly proud of Poly vocalists. “Our singers have displayed so much resilience and positive energy throughout the past four months,” he said. “They have adapted to protocols, learned new technology platforms, and pushed themselves to work outside of their comfort zones. Despite all of the challenges, they have made music together and maintained the collaborative spirit that is so important to our ensembles.”  

Daniela Diaz ’21

Daniela Diaz ’21, a member of Advanced Concert Choir, said she rehearsed her part mostly by working with other students in her class in breakout rooms to learn the music and timing, as well as listening to recordings of Doughty singing the different parts, reading over the music, and listening to recordings of her part being played. “I would say my biggest challenge has been trying to navigate the site we’re using to record our voice parts, Soundtrap,” said Diaz, ”and adjusting to singing the parts by myself at home, especially since one of the most important parts of a choir is hearing other students and working as an ensemble. However, despite many of the challenges of adjusting to learning the music during COVID-19, I would say I’m most proud of how everyone in the class has managed to come together and work with each other in order to produce really new and creative ways to make the best out of the situation and still put on a great show. Finding new ways to work through the music has really been eye opening and given new opportunities to learn a lot more.” 

Jazz Band and Concert Band
Dr. Orrin Wilson
Dr. Orrin Wilson

Dr. Orrin Wilson leads the Jazz Band along with Chris Benvegna, and teaches Upper School Music and Middle School Instrumental Music. “I think one of the biggest challenges was the use of outdoor space when the weather would shift how we would rehearse,” said Dr. Wilson. Videos of the Jazz Band rehearsing on the Malkin Terrace were a big hit on social media.  “On rainy days we would be virtual making it difficult to play collectively versus days when it was cold and didn’t allow for the ensemble to fully focus with the persistent cold making it hard to focus on playing. The students have prevailed and worked extremely hard on their contribution to the Winter Concert.” 

Chris Benvegna
Chris Benvegna

“Not much of a surprise per se,” he continued, “but the students have been very resilient in their day-to-day approach to making music despite a crumbling experience centered around COVID-19. All the students show up with the right equipment, at the right time, ready to concentrate, and that is pretty much all I can ask of them while trying to maintain somewhat of a normal musical setting for growth and maturity as a young musician. I am proud of the work they are doing and will continue to do. My main slogan to them is, ‘See it Through.’” 

Mary Kinnane ’22

Benvegna, who also directs Concert Band, said, “The hardest part about putting it together was never knowing if we were going to be in school or virtual. We were hoping to record our piece live on campus, but the weather had other plans. The musicians were incredibly cooperative and willing to adapt to every situation.” 

“We have rehearsed both in person all together, as well as in smaller groups and at home,” said longtime band member Mary Kinnane ’22. “I think one of our biggest challenges was trying to make sure that we were all in sync when we couldn’t practice together. Even though we only practiced together a few times, I’m proud of the band that we got the piece together and in sync so quickly.”

Harmonics and A Cappella

Charlotte Knutsen ’21, the student leader of the women’s a cappella group Harmonics, said, “Probably the hardest and the most fun thing about making the videos for Harmonics is the video and audio editing. I only started learning last spring when school went virtual, so I am still very much an amateur, but as I’m getting more comfortable with editing it’s becoming less like drudgery and more like an art form.”  About the Harmonics, she said, “I’m always impressed by their amazing commitment and flexibility under the new schedule and with virtual rehearsals.” 

“One of the big reasons that I love being a part of Poly’s a cappella groups is performance night,” said Nina Ryan ’21. “That’s especially true for Harmonics because we’re such an energetic group so the concerts are always super fun. It has been challenging to make sure that everyone is still excited and that our virtual performances remain engaging. I am most proud of the song we’re currently working on for the Winter Concert, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” by Stevie Wonder. When we started this year, it was on both Charlotte and my lists for potential songs so we knew we had to do it. It’s coming together beautiful.”

As she looked forward to the first rehearsal, Jasmine Donald, a new member of Harmonics, said, “The biggest challenge I faced was finding the confidence to actually send in my part for our song or to even show up to rehearsals. I am most proud of our latest cover to “Cooler Than Me” that was showcased at the Coffeehouse. We all worked extremely hard and our hard work paid off. I am also proud of myself for being able to really put myself out there and give it my best effort.”

Maddy Wyatt
Maddy Wyatt

Maddy Wyatt, who leads A Cappella, said the obvious challenge was not being able to physically be together to collaborate and rehearse. “Though technology provides many solutions to the problems we’ve encountered during the pandemic,” she said, “it also isolates us from one another, and asks our singers to be soloists in their homes, recording their parts individually, without the guide and comfort of their fellow ensemble members. The challenge also lies with us as faculty members, to suddenly become audio engineers and videographers, in order to create a cohesive whole out of many moving parts.”

She continued, “The process demands that students step out of their comfort zones, trust themselves to perform their parts individually, and bravely offer their solo performances toward the creation of a finished musical piece. It has pleasantly surprised me, especially in the Middle School, that the students are willing to contribute, and might even be having a little fun while doing it.” 

String Ensembles
Carrie Dowell
Carrie Dowell

Other challenges faced string players. “I am proud of the Upper School String Ensemble, the String Rays, and Advanced Strings Piano Trio,” said Carrie Dowell, who directs the musicians, “and their ability to work so well in the outdoor space this year. Musicians love to perform together and having the campus available during this time has allowed us this opportunity.  Mother Nature was most often in our favor. String instruments are sensitive to weather changes and playing with cold fingers in the wind adds another element to overcome.  Keeping social distances during rehearsals and concerts is challenging from both an auditory and visual perspective. I am thrilled we were able to film the Winter Concert before the Thanksgiving break.”

Michael S. Robinson, Head of Arts, shared, “The commitment of Music faculty and students was evident throughout their innovative responses to music-making under the coronavirus safety practices, and the Winter Concert 2020 celebrates and showcases our thriving Music program with new approaches and technologies!” 

See the Winter Concert program.

Watch the performance.