Music department cancels annual Spring Concert due to COVID-19

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"We were really excited to perform the new music that we had been working so hard on, so the cancelation of the Spring Concert was a bit disappointing, choir and a cappella member Langdon Janos ('22) said. "I still had such an awesome experience in the choral program this year." Digital illustration: Molly Solowitz.

While Los Angeles and the rest of the world safeguards itself against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) by closing schools, restaurants and banning all gatherings of 50 people or more in line with social distancing — the Archer music department also fell victim to the virus.

On Monday, Apr. 13, Orchestra Director Susan Smith sent an email to the music community informing them that the annual Spring Concert had officially been canceled. Despite the turn of events, the middle school and upper school orchestra, choir and a cappella groups are continuing to use music as a source of inspiration and happiness. 

“We were all working really hard, and there were practices every week, and during X-block. I know everyone is really disappointed that the show was canceled,” middle school and upper school orchestra member Camilla Blank (’24) said. “We are still finding ways to keep on and continuing our work because even though we cannot be together anymore, everyone is pretty enthusiastic about finding solutions.”

Orchestra began preparing for the concert in early January, directly after winter break. Smith said she considers many things when selecting the repertoire, such as if a piece will work for the ensemble and if they will enjoy working on it.

“Next, I go through all of the music to enter notations, such as bowings, fingerings,” Smith said. “I also sometimes re-orchestrate the music to fit our ensembles better. Then we start rehearsing twice a week to prepare for the concert.”

Going forward with early preparations, the choir and a cappella experienced a similar rehearsal process. Singers attended extensive weekly rehearsals, honed their understanding of music theory and planned as well as perfected their parts. 

“Usually, at the beginning of the process, it was just Ms. O’Connor trying to get the music in our heads, repetitively singing parts over and over again and then slowly leaning off the repetition and starting to clean,” junior Tove Jegeus said. “Ms. O’Connor would point out specific moments where she thinks we need to help, but she would also ask us what our opinions were, where we think as a group we need to grow and we need to make the music sound better.”

With the initiation of remote learning in early March,  the cancellation of the Spring Concert, previously planned to take place on the weekend of May 1, did not come as a surprise to many of the students, but choir and a cappella member Vivien Tierney (’21) described the announcement as “discouraging.”

“Around the time when it was looking a little more uncertain that we were going to have the concert, it was obviously saddening, but I think our spirits are still high,” Tierney said. “We were still having a lot of fun with the pieces, and even if we weren’t going to get to perform them, we would get to sing them with each other for the last couple of rehearsals.”

The news was especially disheartening for the seniors whose final performance before graduating would have been at the Spring Concert.

“I was very disappointed. We had a fantastic program prepared. I felt sad for my students who have been working so hard all semester. I also feel heartbroken for our seniors. This would have been their last concert with us, and we have a tradition of taking time to recognize them and all they have done to further the growth of our music program,” Smith said. 

Orchestra member and senior, Hannah Kim expressed her gratitude to the program as well as her connection to the show, considering it was going to be her last performance at Archer. Kim has an extensive orchestra career, performing solo and concerto compositions at multiple venues including the Disney Concert Hall and the Colburn Zipper Hall. More formally, Kim has been accepted into the All-State Symphony Orchestra ensemble for the last five years in a row. 

“I have been in orchestra since the seventh grade, so six years I’ve been part of the orchestra, I have performed in 12 concerts, and this was going to be my final show. It was definitely a huge bummer and a huge disappointment to hear that the spring concert was going to be canceled, and it was more of a sentimental performance than others,” Kim said. “I was really excited to play with my orchestra team one last time, and I’m sad that we can’t do that, but I’m just hoping that everyone in the orchestra, all the teachers and choir members, that they are all safe and healthy.” 

Sophomore Ruby Williams has been in the choir since seventh grade and joined the upper school a cappella, the Unaccompanied Minors, in ninth grade. With Music having such a significant presence in her Archer career, the postponing of the Spring Concert, as well as the new virtual dynamic, has taken a toll on her. 

“Music is my anchor; it keeps me grounded when I’m overwhelmed by schoolwork. The choir community has grown closer this year, and not being able to see them every day has taken some adjusting,” Williams said. 

Despite life-under-lockdown, the music department is finding new ways to evolve its performance to match the online set-up. As broadway productions and concerts have begun to partake in the virtual movement, the choir, a cappella and orchestra discussed joining in by creating a Zoom performance.

“Producing ensemble work on Zoom is incredibly challenging. Especially with instrumental ensembles. I have been looking into this and done research on it,” Smith said.

The choir and a cappella have attempted Zoom rehearsals by following the direction of O’Connor while on mute, but as of early May, they have yet to practice a full song online.

“We are going to try to send in a video of all us singing our parts for one of the songs, and then Ms. O’Connor is going to try to make it one song and format it to seem as if we are all singing together,” Jegeus said.

According to Williams, the music department plays an “integral” role in her daily life at Archer, and she has an “infinite” amount of unforgettable memories in the choir room. This sentiment has been echoed among several members of the musical community, especially the senior class.

“It’s been a pretty big part of my high school experience, it’s been a lot of times spent. Some of my greatest friends that I’ve met have been a part of choir, a cappella and also orchestra, so the musical community is very tight knight. We are all there for each other and help each other grow as singers and also as people,” Hernandez said.

The video above presents the Unaccompanied Minors and the Middle C’s performing “Raise Your Paddle” under the direction of Choral Director Hannah O’Connor. Archer parent, Gabriel Mann composed the song organized by his daughter Piper Rutman (’23).