Keep Making Music: Blair Musicians Presented Virtual Fall Concert

Keep Making Music: Blair Musicians Presented Virtual Fall Concert
Blair Academy

Blair’s annual fall showcase of musical talent took place on November 20 when more than 70 student instrumentalists and vocalists performed in the virtual Fall Concert. Featuring four instrumental ensembles, the Singers and numerous small vocal groups, the online event was a celebration of the performing arts department’s determination to keep making music amid challenging circumstances and to share some joy with audience members around the world. To view the concert, please click below:

A Different Kind of Fall
The musicians began preparing for the Fall Concert when they returned to campus in late August, but this year, with health-and-safety protocols firmly in place, those preparations looked quite different than they have in the past. For instance, instead of full-ensemble rehearsals in Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts, vocalists and instrumentalists practiced in smaller groups, often outside under tents, where they could maintain extensive distance from one another amid the fresh air. They recorded their parts for the concert repertoire individually, and, instead of singing during class meetings, vocalists used that time to focus on active listening skills, as well as the foundational skills necessary to create original covers of songs.

“It was definitely  a challenge to manage multiple rehearsal spaces and for students to adjust to new rehearsal routines,” said performing arts department chair and director of instrumental music Jennifer Pagotto, who has been teaching almost a dozen fully remote students this fall in addition to those who are on campus. “Nonetheless, I was truly impressed with the way our musicians worked through every obstacle. Everyone was rolling with our ‘for-now normal’ and doing their best to keep learning and making music.”

Director of vocal music Ryan Manni was proud of the way vocalists have adapted, as well. “Students jumped into our new procedures with aplomb,” he said. “They were enthusiastic about finding creative ways to continue to engage with music making at Blair—they inspire me every day!”

Ava Roche ’21, who serves as president of the Singers, said she would love to have all the Singers together in one room, but, for now, she was happy that they can work in small groups. “We were using GarageBand to combine recordings of our individual voices,” she said. “It was difficult to learn at first, but I’m thankful that we have the technology that allows us to make music together and that connects us as one.”

Four-year Orchestra member and cello section leader Nathan Tung ’21 described how health-and-safety protocols that required string players to sit farther apart than usual and practice separately from brass and woodwinds made learning his own parts a little more difficult. But he also noted a silver lining. “We moved at a slower pace this fall,” he said. “Having more time to work through each piece allowed me to become much more familiar with my music.”

Varied Repertoire
Mrs. Pagotto and Mr. Manni chose a varied repertoire for the Fall Concert that included both familiar works and numbers that were new to listeners. Among the pieces performed by the Orchestra is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, mvt. IV, an arrangement created by Mrs. Pagotto just for this year’s musicians. “This movement starts out quiet and understated and finishes pretty robust and exciting,” she said. “I think audience members recognized and enjoyed it. We were excited to honor Beethoven’s legacy with this work, since December marks the 250th anniversary of his birth.” 

The Wind Ensemble played Jennifer Higdon’s “Rhythm Stand for Wind Ensemble” and the beloved classic, “Amazing Grace.” Meanwhile, the String Orchestra regaled the audience with Leroy Anderson’s “Plink, Plank, Plunk,” which Mrs. Pagotto described as a “super fun piece to play and listen to,” and “Lyric for Strings” by George Walker, the first Black composer to win a Pulitzer Prize.

On the vocal music side, the Singers presented “Sisi Ni Moja” by Jacob Narverud, a work that extols a message of hope, joy and unity. Mr. Manni gave special thanks to Ethan Rackleff ’21 for his care and expertise in recording, mixing and producing this piece for the Fall Concert.  

In addition to the Singers’ number, small groups of vocalists performed covers of popular works by a wide range of artists, including The Beatles, Adele, Owl City and many others. “The covers are so well done, and they are completely the products of our students,” Mr. Manni said. “I think the audience was especially impressed by the creativity and uniqueness of these pieces.”

Making Music & Making Memories
For Nathan and Ava, who performed in their fourth Fall Concert at Blair, making music with their peers has been an experience they will long remember. Nathan counts the off-campus opportunities to attend and perform in concerts among the greatest moments he has experienced with the Orchestra. “I especially loved our trip to England my freshman year and our trip to see the New York Philharmonic my sophomore year,” he said. “Being together with those groups of fellow musicians forged unforgettable memories for me.” 

Ava considers her four years in Blair’s vocal music program a gift. “The Singers, Chamber Choir and A Cappella have all become a part of me,” she said. “Through each of these organizations, I am constantly given the chance to meet and connect with new people who I probably never would have connected with otherwise. Blair music has given me such a strong sense of community and love, which I will always remember and hold dear to my heart.”