A trumpeter plays a rousing rendition of “West End Blues.” A tenor teases an aria by Puccini. A flutist shares a soulful sonatine.
One is in a sun-filled room. Another surrounded by books. The last stares through a window, seemingly inspired by the budding trees.
They are all part of the John J. Cali School of Music family – or #calimusicfamily. Each is alone and socially distant but all are brought together by social media.
As students and faculty across Montclair State University – and, indeed, the world – have been sent home and separated in the effort to blunt the spread of COVID-19, the University is using social media and technology to further their studies, help them share and create work, and fight the dispiriting effects of isolation.
From Instagram to Zoom teleconferencing, the show must go on.
“There’s a lot of innovative work going on in the Cali School of Music, and I’m glad we can continue to educate and inspire people at this most difficult of times,” explains Heather J. Buchanan, professor of Music and director of Choral Activities.
Toward that end, Buchanan has been meeting via Zoom with the 70-person- strong MSU University Singers Chorus class, discussing strategies for learning and working on “All My Trials” – a piece Buchanan aims to have ready for “virtual” performance in four weeks.
“It’s an impressive broad use of technology to stay connected and help Cali students keep stride while remote learning,” says Buchanan. “There will be a plethora of ‘virtual choir’ videos from many choirs in the coming weeks and months. It’s a lot of fun, but only one of the optional projects I’m giving our choral students the opportunity to participate in. Engaging our students through our virtual series ‘Masterful Musings’ and viewing and discussing previous performances together will also maintain the connection that’s central in any choral community.”
For those listening and watching at home, follow @calischoolofmusic on instagram and/or look for #calimusicfamily on social media. In addition, University Singers’ recording I Sing Because…, which was originally slated for official release at the now-canceled annual Choral Showcase at the Kasser Theater, is available for purchase as a CD and soon as a download. “It’s actually our debut solo recording as all previous recordings have been with professional orchestras or other organizations,” says Buchanan.
For students Maddie Meier and Rebecca Masser, the creative potential of technological connection has been eye opening.
Both are members of the flagship choir, University Singers, and also sing in the symphonic choir MSU Chorale. Meier is a graduating senior in Vocal Performance who is staying with Buchanan through the virus outbreak. Masser is an international exchange student from Graz, Austria. Due to COVID-19, Masser had to return to Austria and is currently in a 14-day quarantine where she has been connecting online for her classes.
Says Meier: “I knew that this switch online was going to take a lot of navigation through unknown avenues in terms of our goals as students and faculty at the Cali School of Music. Much of what we do as professional musicians requires human contact, as many, if not all, of our performances and rehearsals are live. It has been comforting for me though, to see how students and faculty of the music school have come together to really be there for one another and make the most out of the resources that we currently have.”
She adds, “So many of my teachers have made it clear to me that they will be with us every step of the way, and that has really meant a lot.”
Masser agrees, giving shoutouts to professors Anthony Mazzocchi and Lori McCann, as well as Buchanan. “They and many more were trying to figure out the best ways to continue in such a difficult time. Many professors are reaching out to their students and checking if they are all right – this cannot be taken for granted.”
Masser explains that her year of studying abroad ended so abruptly “that I couldn’t even say farewell to my professors who were so supportive throughout my whole stay and to my friends that, I’m sure, became lifelong friends.”
“It’s very fascinating to see how all this can affect people positively because we are being forced to slow down and press a reset button,” says Masser. “The fact that helps me keep going is that I am still able to connect with most of my friends through technology. Meeting all these friendly faces through Zoom for the class MSU Singers definitely was the highlight of my week and it was only Tuesday. It’s also good to know that we all are in this together and have the support of each other.”
Back in the U.S., Meier called the group meeting via Zoom a “bright spot” in the darkness. “I got so excited hearing all the little ‘ding dongs’ of everyone entering into the Zoom chat! It was really pretty emotional getting to see everyone, and just knowing that we are all still doing OK.”
“I left the chat, just feeling so inspired and uplifted.”