Mary Did You Know You’d Be Online?: A Digital Christmas Collegium

On Wednesday, December 2, the music department will be live streaming a digital Christmas Collegium. It will involve choral society, brass choir, flute choir, orchestra, symphonic band, and jazz ensemble. As with all other performances and in general most things this year, it will be different from any Christmas Collegium of the past, simply due to the digital nature. While  the recent shift to orange level will mean the loss of some traditions and beloved parts of the music department tradition, it is also a means for innovation and exploration for the department.

The music department and its ensembles have been faced with trying to safely deliver meaningful ensemble experiences for university students. I spoke to symphonic band conductor Dr. James Kalyn about his experience with symphonic band, as well as more specifically on the Christmas Collegium. Speaking broadly about band, he talked about the change in his role with logistics, as currently, “rarely, in symphonic band, we’re all in the same room in the same spot, so we’ve ended up doing a lot of chamber music, but that’s a different type of repertoire and a different type of experience”. Additionally, he touched on the difficulties of scheduling and mixing mediums, especially with people in different rooms and sometimes at home with recordings and videos, requiring more complicated scheduling and the addition of an assistant conductor.

With the Christmas Collegium, there have been quite a few losses. Usually, many of the performances are student-organized and student-run, but due to restrictions in recording and practising, it has led to the rise of more performances for large ensembles. It’s difficult for students in this particular manner but has also led to difficulties in the way that we make music together. According to Dr. Kalyn, “as musicians, we’re used to working together and hearing each other and working together and hearing each other and working on the different nuances. What happens when you can’t do that? We’re putting together performances where the group has never heard the whole thing, and that’s really challenging, especially for young musicians—it’s challenging for anybody.”

However, there is innovation and new ideas in this switch to digital. Choral society’s SSAA choir is putting together a piece that will feature filming from home, and body percussion linked up by editing in a way that wouldn’t have been possible live. On that note, the music department’s “Mary Did You Know” performance is also something that couldn’t happen in a “regular” year. It will feature the orchestra, symphonic band, members of the jazz ensemble, and choral society, and wouldn’t have been able to be done due to the sheer number of ensembles involved. This has led to the growth of the job of the technicians involved, as the music department doesn’t have a dedicated recording engineer and has had to work with challenges such as headphone amplifiers, and video and audio of different types of equipment. Although it hasn’t come without its challenges, Dr. Kalyn cites the recording in smaller fashions throughout the semester, such as for weekly Collegiums, as practice to be able to pull off a bigger project like this.

There have been challenges every step of the way, testing musicians’ tenacity and mentality to be able to pull off this new way of creating music, especially with everything else that’s been going on this year. I, for one, have seen the music students be incredibly glad that they still have the opportunity to be making music together in-person, and have been absolutely making the best of it for something that they adore. I’m sure that the Christmas Collegium is going to be a success, in spite of the situation and due to the strength of the music department and those who wish to keep upholding its community spirit and wish to share and create art. 

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