members of the MWSU Chorale Ensemble rehearse virtuallyWith the constraints of social distancing, students in the otherwise close chorale ensemble group were able to stretch and flex their creativity as they learned to sing together… separately… from their own space.

The virtual choir experience enabled more than 50 students to create music in a unique way. With changes to class participation and the potential for vocal groups to be COVID-19 “super spreaders,” Dr. Elise Hepworth, professor and director of choral activities, knew she wanted to find a way to keep her students connected. Through a grant from the Missouri Western Arts Society, she was able to work with a company who specializes in virtual music productions, and the first-ever Griffon Virtual Chorale Performance began to take shape.

During the 16-week semester, students would rehearse and practice, but with no live performances or concerts scheduled, she feared the student experience would feel flat. “I wanted them to have the opportunity for a culminating experience,” she said.

“The students were really excited to try something new. No one in the ensemble had participated in a virtual choir. It was all new,” Hepworth said. “I think they will be very excited to see the final product,” she added as she tried to contain her own excitement about the project.

It was a very different experience for them all, but enabled them to flex and grow in a positive way. “In a choir, you are making music live with other people around you. With that, one of the benefits is you are able to hear and respond to the people around you,” she said. In her words, the virtual experience was like the antithesis of what a choir is. “In a virtual choir, each participant sings by themselves into their earbuds, or into a microphone. Rather than singing with others, they are singing along with a pre-made accompaniment track.” Even so, this collaboration came together beautifully.

Not only was the group able to make music, they made lasting memories. And with this special recording, the participants will have a digital memory to carry forward for years to come. “They can look back in 20, 30 years as an adult and see and hear themselves and the MWSU Concert Chorale and remember there were some good things that came out of the pandemic,” Hepworth said. “We were still able to maintain a sense of community and family, which is the hallmark of our program at Missouri Western.”

The production company has edited and assembled all the video and audio. The piece will be released in the next few weeks, and you can have a private viewing in your own home. Watch the MWSU Foundation Facebook Page for the video link.

In true Griffon spirit, the students seized the opportunity to show their school pride as they donned Missouri Western black and gold for the performance. The video has the potential to be seen around the world, after all.

Meanwhile, in our corner of the globe, classes will resume for the spring semester, and Hepworth and the chorale will keep in tune with each other and the world as best they can.

“This has been a beautiful way to preserve a sense of normalcy,” she said. “I think this has brought great joy to the students to have a chance to do something like this.”

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Thank you, Arts Society Members

This fall, the Missouri Western Arts Society funded six requests in support of students and faculty in the School of Fine Arts. This year’s grants span a variety of disciplines and will support digital animation, graphic design, cinema, art history, chorale, ceramics, sculpture and 3D design students. In addition, a portion of these grants help fund events that are utilized by the public as well as the University.

One of the grants helped fund the Virtual Choir experience described above.