Return to larger ensemble sizes brings harmony back to MU women’s Concert Chorale

New research about the COVID-19 virus allows MU women’s Concert Chorale to include more individuals in each ensemble group.

Due to the decrease in COVID-19 cases and new research that reveals how the virus is spread through singing, choirs at MU are expanding their ensembles to hold up to 28 members for the 2021 spring 2021 semester.

Research from the National Federation of State High School Associations Aerosol Study found that singers who wear “a well fit 3-layer surgical style mask” reduce the total aerosol concentration by 98%.

This discovery was enough to allow the ensembles to increase capacity in mid-January when classes resumed.

“Day one you could already tell a difference,” Annabel Carter, third-year women’s Concert Chorale member, said. “Every music kid knows this feeling — you’re singing and making music and you’re making it with all your friends. A lot of us missed out on this first semester, so the first day was so nice to hear everyone. It felt a little more normal.”

During the 2020 fall 2020 semester, the women’s Concert Chorale was split into five sections with ten or fewer members. Although this setup was for the safety of the singers, most choir members were happy to see it go. The smaller ensembles made it challenging for the group to establish a sense of community and get to know each other.

“As a whole, we're a lot closer to each other now. It is so nice getting to see more people in class this semester, and it's definitely a more connecting experience for all of us,” Shannon Martin, first-year women’s Concert Chorale member, said.

To maintain a sense of connection during the previous semester, women’s Concert Chorale director Dr. Emily Edgington organized introductory Zooms at the start of the semester and worked to unite the numerous sections.

“Our conductor Emily is super great,” Kate Wyman, second-year women’s Concert Chorale member, said. “She does a great job of trying to build that community despite the changes. It's a little bit harder to meet people, so there is a slight disconnect, but as far as the circumstances are allowing, she is doing a good job keeping us connected.”

Aside from uniting the singers through connection, the expansion also united the singers in sound.

“I think we kind of feed off of each other's energy, so it's always a lot higher energy whenever we're in the bigger groups than with the smaller groups,” Martin said.

Singing in groups of nine during the fall semester was challenging for the musicians, and forced them to get outside of their comfort zones.

“I was forced to grow more as a singer in the smaller ensemble because you have to know your stuff better and read the music and fine-tune your listening,” Wyman said.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Dr. Edgington incorporated a theme into each semester’s repertoire. This year, the themes were more important than ever because they helped singers from all sections to communicate the same message.

“I think having a theme is a cool way not only to unite all of the ensemble, but also tie together all the pieces we are doing,” Wyman said. “It helps you get into a certain mindset in each one. When you’re singing, you're not only trying to sing the music, but also trying to tell a story.”

For this semester, Dr. Edgington chose “Face the Sun,” based on A.A. Milne’s quote, “Promise me you will always remember: you are braver than you believe and stronger than you think.”

“I really like this one. Throughout 2020 a lot of people had dark times. People didn't know when the sun or good times would come again,” Carter said. “This theme is a reminder that things will get better and to look on the bright side of things.”

The lifted size restrictions are only the start for choirs at MU. In the future, Concert Chorale hopes to bring back their annual retreats and in-person social events to continue to build a strong choir family.

“It’s super feasible to join choir for anyone who is interested,” Carter said. “The majority of choir singers are non-majors, which is awesome, because the more diverse and unique a group is, the better it is going to be.”

Edited by Angelina Edwards | aedwards@themaneater.com

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