Happy Notes: Harrison High School Students Come Together in Virtual Choir

They haven’t gotten to step inside their school building in weeks or sit together in class. They haven’t spent time together as friends, let alone had a chance to practice together. As the world battles the new coronavirus, life may look very different for students in Harrison High School’s choir. But, for a brief few minutes, they were together again bringing joy to anyone who heard them sing.

The students were not able to do their performance evaluation, which was scheduled for the week after schools closed. So, their choir director, Megan Schuitema, transformed their individual performances into an inspiring virtual choir.

The students loved seeing the result as much as anyone who watched their heart-warming performance of “Ubi Caritas” including friends, grandparents, and even the composer Michael John Trotta.

In fact, the composer liked it so much that he recorded a special message for the Harrison students.

“Even though it is online, even though it is not actually in person, it is something in a small way that they can do together,” Schuitema said. “The students deserve as much normalcy right now as they can get because none of us have experienced anything like this ever before.”

Harrison senior Lily Kate agreed with her teacher and cherished the opportunity to make music with her choir friends one more time.

“There are a lot of missed memories [for seniors like me],” Lily Kate explained. “It was really nice to have this one little normal memory at the end of our senior year.”

That’s one of the goals for Schuitema and why she plans to produce about eight virtual choir pieces this year to give her students the opportunity to show off what they have worked so hard to accomplish. It’s an opportunity her students otherwise would have missed with schools being closed.

“Anything the choir program can do for them right now to give them some sense of a normal high school experience, I’m going to try to make happen,” the Choir Director added.

While producing the first virtual choir, Schuitema and her students discovered another benefit of compiling the individual performances.

“[The virtual choir] really showed me how the choir is both an individual and a team sport,” said Harrison ninth-grader Allie.

As she performed her individual part at home to send to her teacher, she realized that she couldn’t ask for help or lean on others for support at home like she does when the choir is together at school. She learned she really had to hold her own part.

“It is much more fulfilling to do it in a group,” her teacher added. “Learning how much we rely on each other to make music happen has really been an eye-opening experience.”

The virtual choir helped the Harrison students build vocal independence, something they may not have had a chance to do if schools hadn’t closed forcing them to transition to digital learning.

Lily Kate really enjoyed doing the individual recording and practicing on her own for the virtual choir.

“It pushes all to be better musicians,” the Harrison senior praised.

Their teacher saw another advantage in the virtual choir experience. Seeing how technology enables you to create large-scale musical performances may trigger some students to pursue music technology as a career. Again, something they may never have considered had it not been for the unprecedented change to their learning environment.

Despite the learning curve in producing her first virtual choir, Schuitema thinks the advantages of the virtual choir make it something worth adding to her lesson plans once students return to school.

“This will further enhance what we were already doing in our ensembles,” she said.

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