75% of Concert Choir students have yet to take part in the annual spring tour which has been canceled for the past two years due to Covid-19
In the spring of 2020 and 2021, the NDSU Concert Choir was unable to attend their annual choir tour due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but after two long-awaited years they are able to return to the series of spring 2022 concerts.
“Last year the Covid really impacted us because we had to sing in a huge space, always masked and very distanced. We just couldn’t hear each other,” said Dr. Jo Ann Miller, Distinguished Professor of the university and director of choral activities. “Making music at the same level that we used to do was not possible. We were always together and we always sang and made music, but it was so different .
Two years of missing touring means two classes of students who missed what could have been their final years of touring while at the Concert Choir. According to Dr. Miller, about 75% of the current members of the choir have never toured before.
But this year, the choir is able to begin the transition to a normal practice setting and better prepare for the tour. Although the situation is still not ideal, there has been a great improvement compared to last year.
“We were really happy to be back in the choir hall. Even if we’re masked, at least we’re in the same room and we get along a lot better,” Miller said.
The tour allows each member of the choir to advance both in their music and in their relationships with the other choristers. Dr. Miller thinks this is where the big growth happens.
“I’ve always believed that going on tour is when the choir really gels musically and also personally. And so without that experience of traveling together and singing the same gig over and over again, we missed out on some of the musical growth that the choir has when they have those experiences together,” Miller said. “So I mostly felt sad for the kids who haven’t had the experience. Without that, they don’t really know what they’re missing, so I’m very excited that we’re going to do that this year.
For music majors and non-music majors alike, consecutive days of singing and bonding create memories that will stay with them for a lifetime. About two-thirds of the choir members are music majors, the rest are pursuing a variety of different majors at NDSU.
“My brother, who wasn’t a music student, was in the concert choir for two years and he was talking about touring and he said, ‘You know, those kids, if they didn’t go , they have no idea,’ and I said, ‘No, really not.’ Even as a speech pathology student he loved every minute of it so we can say how cool that is but until you experience it it’s not quite the same .
There are traditions that the choir continues on each tour that new members are going to have to learn from the few choir members who have toured before. Dr. Miller says it’s also important for recruits to gain an understanding of what they need to take from themselves to prepare for the demanding effort it takes to be successful.
“Not really knowing what to expect is one of the things that I think is just different this year because we usually have so many students who have done it before and they kind of pass on the culture to the rest of the choir, but there are so few who did,” Miller said.
Another difference to this year’s tour from previous tours is the wearing of masks when traveling by bus and at most performances. Although masked singing is new to touring concerts, choir members have been singing in masks since fall 2020, some don’t even know what it’s like to sing in a choir without a mask yet.
“We’re still hoping mask mandates will be canceled at NDSU by the time we leave, which is still two weeks away, but we anticipate that at least a few gigs we’ll still have to sing masked,” Miller said. “Since we sing in spaces much larger than our performance hall, this could increase the possibility of unmasking. We hope we can sing without a mask soon… it’s been so long.
Many hosts have been unmasked for quite some time, but there are still a few that have barely opened. St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis has just resumed service and is still carefully monitoring Covid and requiring masks.
“We’ll probably sing most of our gigs in masks,” Miller said. “If we’re able to sing some of them without a mask, that will always be an option for singers who feel the need to stay masked a bit longer.”
Last year, the choir did not see many cases of COVID. However, this year with omicron, they had many more absences and positive cases among their members. Due to harsh winter conditions for the past two weeks, they also missed three rehearsals for NDSU which closed its campus.
“The concert choir does a lot of repertoire, so these factors have affected our progress on some pieces. We are trying to catch up by doing additional sections, having practice tracks for members to use, and expecting more them than what they probably expected of themselves,” Miller said.
The recent absence of choir members and dwindling rehearsals puts the quality of the band’s work on the back foot more than they would like. But, like most performances, the working pieces usually click together just in time for the big show.
“I think we’ll get there for sure because we always do, so I’m not worried about reaching the level of performance that we expect, it’s just that we’re getting a little bit closer than I think. would prefer,” Miller said. “So it’s just a matter of making adjustments as we go along, both on my part as a conductor, but also on the part of the individuals who have to step in.”
The choir will travel to cities in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin to perform their concerts. Their home performance will be at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 20 at the Lutheran Church of Peace, Fargo.
For those with questions or concerns, contact Dr. Jo Ann Miller at [email protected]