Clark University’s Concert Band was gathering for a rehearsal in mid-March just as news broke that campus would close for the rest of the semester to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Faced with the realization that they would not be able to perform a spring concert in person, members met briefly outside of Estabrook Hall to discuss their options.
Everyone agreed they would like to find a way to perform, so Director Samantha McGill drew on her past experience to devise a plan — a virtual concert that involved each member recording their own parts from home. Using a series of click tracks and videos, McGill wove together a 30-minute performance that will premiere on YouTube this Saturday, April 25, at 3 p.m.
“While it’s not traditional by any stretch of the imagination, I think we were able to bridge the distance between us and make some really awesome music together,” she says. “We ‘challenge convention’ at Clark, and if there was ever time to do that, it’s now.”
McGill created a series of click tracks and videos of herself conducting each of the band’s three pieces. Each student then listened to the click tracks with headphones and watched the conducting videos while recording themselves playing their parts. Once they recorded a satisfactory take, they sent it to McGill, who combined all of the parts into one audio file and synced it with the videos students provided.
“In studio recording sessions, the musician typically records by his or herself while following a click track that provides the tempo,” McGill explains. “I figured we could adapt that strategy, in addition to a recording of myself conducting, to maintain a sense of normal concert band function and ensure that each musician kept the proper timing.”
She also put together a document with several native, open-source, and free apps that are accessible to students, and even made a test video to show them the end goal.
The majority of band members participated in the virtual concert. Some students who were unable to submit recordings researched the history of the pieces, created introductory slides, or simply provided encouragement and support to their fellow musicians.
Recording wasn’t the only challenge students faced, either.
“Our percussionists, for example, did not have access to the instruments at school. Although they had a few actual percussion instruments between them, in many cases they had to get a bit more resourceful,” McGill says. “Working together and with some creative takes they were able to put together a complete section, including a recycling bin bass drum and metal pot lid cymbals.”
Saturday’s concert, which can be viewed here on Saturday at 3 p.m., will include performances of “The Machine Awakes” by Steven Bryant, “The Bridge Market” by Julie Giroux, and “Second Suite in F Major,” movements one, two, and four, by Gustav Holst.