Just two years ago, Vicki Jardine-Tobin took over directing the Centralia College Community Choir, which had dwindled to just nine singers.
Through the recruiting efforts of many of the group’s longer-term members, the choir started the 2019-2020 school year at Centralia College with 65 members.
“Then COVID hit and I was like, ‘are you kidding me?’” Jardine-Tobin said.
When Centralia College transitioned to remote learning in late March, Jardine-Tobin said at first, she did not know exactly what was going to happen for her choir. Determined not to allow the progress they had made slip away, she suggested attempting a virtual choir performance. Jardine-Tobin said she wasn’t sure what her singers would think of working together remotely, but it was the only way the group would be able to meet for spring quarter. Surprisingly, 43 of the choir’s members signed on to give it a try.
“We have a fairly large group that is just determined to keep this group together and create great things to share with the community,” she said.
The Centralia College Community Choir is a class that is open to both Centralia College students and community members. The choir’s members range in age from 15 to 80 and from students who want to major in music to people who just love expressing themselves through song. Their experience also varied when it came to comfort with remote learning technology.
“We have every age and every level of understanding of computers,” Jardine-Tobin said. “It took a lot of time to figure out. It was a pretty steep learning curve, myself included.”
With the entire Centralia College campus working remotely, Jardine-Tobin said she knew the on-campus Information Technology department was overwhelmed with requests for assistance. She said she knew she would have to educate herself and her students and largely figure a system out themselves. A large chunk of the spring quarter course’s time was used to teach students how to rehearse over technology such as Zoom.
Students rehearsed the music on their own, then virtually in small groups. When it was time for her singers to record themselves, Jardine-Tobin recorded herself directing each individual piece of the song. Then students were asked to record themselves singing the song using the recording of Jardine-Tobin directing them.
“So, everyone is following the same video so it’s somewhat synchronized,” she explained.
Jardine-Tobin purchased some video production software to use for the project and her daughter, who works in video production, offered to help her. Even still, it took hours to splice together what ended up as 39 individual videos.
“As an editor you have to align all those infinitesimal entrances. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I said I would do this,” Jardine-Tobin said with a laugh.
The first-ever remotely produced song by the Centralia College Community Choir was completed last week. It is an acapella rendition of “Hear My Prayer” by Moses Hogan. Centralia College Music Department Head Dr. Beth May said the college is attempting to secure the rights to publish the song on a public platform so that the community can view it. But that copyrights can be expensive and laborious to secure so May said she is not sure if they will be able to or not. Choir members are still able to share the recording privately and were excited to see their finished product.
“I’m so proud of them,” Jardine-Tobin said. “Some had no clue how to do something like this and they hung on through the challenges and they were just really thrilled to see it.”
Because producing the videos is so laborious, the Centralia College Community Choir will continue past its June 16 end date for classes. Once production of all three songs is complete, the choir will break for the summer and restart in the fall and is being advertised for Fall 2020 as a virtual class again. Singing, especially in large groups in enclosed spaces, is one of the activities considered to be high on the list of potential ways COVID-19 can be spread easily. Jardine-Tobin said the American Choral Directors Association recently published directives for collegiate singing groups to follow in choosing how and when to meet in person.
“At this point in time, Centralia College has chosen to have a virtual experience only,” Jardine-Tobin said.
If and when social distancing requirements are lifted, Jardine-Tobin said she thinks the skills they have learned through this experience will likely remain useful to the Centralia College Community Choir. She says being able to produce high quality recordings like this has a tremendous potential for marketing the choir.
“It would be pretty amazing to be able to show our choral music around the world,” she said.