Tonight, June 2, was to be the Rockford High School choir program’s final concert of the school year. And though the school doors are closed, choir directors Mandy Scott, Renee Vande Wege and Jed Scott weren’t about to let that stop their student singers from making a joyful noise.
Over 120 choral students in grades 9-12 will join voices in a virtual choir to celebrate the graduations of about 45 senior singers, in a prerecorded concert to be posted on the Rockford Choirs YouTube channel at 7 p.m. Students recorded video and audio tracks of themselves singing individually, which were digitally synched to create a virtual group singing together. The concert also will feature soloists.
For Camden Ferguson, a senior in the Chamber Singers and Rockford Aces, it will be a welcome way to mark the end of his K-12 school career amid the strangely isolating experience of the pandemic.
“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with all this going on,” said Camden, who also plays trumpet in the wind ensemble. “I wasn’t sure if we’d get any closure on our senior year. It’s nice to have one last thing we can all work on together.”
The concert will feature a song written by Jed Scott, “Towards a Better Future,” based on quotes from Nelson Mandela, along with “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” traditionally sung to close the school year. The latter will be played over a video honoring seniors, while the former will feature each choir member singing Mandela’s inspirational words but as part of an online choir.
“It’s really positive, it’s uplifting, it’s the message we want our kids, our families to feel in this time, where it feels like we’re so apart but music is still bringing us together,” said Mandy Scott, Rockford High’s director of choirs.
A Labor of Love
Separately, Jed Scott led his all-male ensemble, the Rockford Aces, in a prerecorded concert Saturday, May 30, which is also available on the Rockford Choirs YouTube channel. For that performance, ensemble members recorded their vocals, then lip-synched videos over them.
Altogether, approximately 175 students take part in the 9-12 choir program and its several groups, including the Freshman Choir directed by Renee Vande Wege. While offering online activities for singers since the school closure, including spunky jazzercise videos, creating the concerts has been a time-consuming labor of love for the directors and their students.
‘When I reach out to kids, I keep reminding them that you are part of this Rockford choir family. We’re not going to let you fall.’– Mandy Scott, director of choirs
The Scotts collected video and audio tracks from their singers, usually recorded onto cell phones and submitted via text, email or other means. They provided an audio rhythm track and a video of Mandy conducting to keep students on tempo. Jed stitched the separate recordings together into a unified whole using editing software.
“You could spend every day, all day, hours and hours” putting the final products together, Mandy said, crediting Jed with “all the heavy lifting.”
Students put in their hours, too. Camden said he pulled up sheet music on his iPad and recorded his parts in his closet, where it’s “nice and quiet and not a lot of echo.” The experience may help him at Michigan State University, where he’ll major in music education.
Lifting Students’ Spirits
Besides the technical challenges involved, creating the concert has provided students with a way to stay connected to music – and to each other – in a difficult time. Many musical and artistic students have struggled, the Scotts say.
Mandy recalled a talented choir member who said she couldn’t sing her part because “I’m too sad.” Scott told her, “You have to hold onto your music, you have to hold onto your singing. You belong to this group of people.” The student promptly sent in her parts, including solos.
“When I reach out to kids, I keep reminding them that you are part of this Rockford choir family,” Mandy said. “We’re not going to let you fall.
“The more we continue to keep bringing these kids together to make music, I really think it has a big heart and a huge influence in their mental health.”
Jed says for many students, art and music are vital in keeping their spirits and energy up — as they are for him.
“When you can get them to engage is when they wake back up,” he said. “They start having more regular sleep hours, and engaging with the world in a productive way.”