The Secret to a Triumphant Winter Concert? Harmonious Collaboration.

by Performing Arts teachers Joseph Ancowitz, Yvonne Hicks, Nick Kadajski, Andrew Leonard, Jenny Pommiss, and Simon Thomas-Train

The winter concert always has some element of collaboration in it during a normal year. That was especially true in the year of 2020. The concert came together because of the contributions of the students and arts teachers working together like no other year. 

The jazz bands worked on music remotely and in person. The students in the jazz groups often just learned the technical parts of the music in person without making any sounds on their instruments. While they were at home they would zoom in to class and individually play back what they had learned. They recorded their parts into an online recording program called Soundtrap. Their parts were then downloaded and mixed using Logic. Each music teacher followed a similar method for creating their groups portion of the concert. It was a time consuming process, but well worth the effort. 

As the start of this school year approached, figuring out how the strings classes would be able to function effectively, what with some students being fully remote, and others attending classes on an alternating in-person/remote basis, became increasingly important. Technology would have to be heavily used, and that the glories of playing chamber music would likely just become “sterile” music making. Even with music being a “universal language”, one that draws people together, and connects persons of all types, we were tentatively embarking on a new and unfamiliar “adventure”.

Indeed as school opened, all of us, teachers and students alike, found ourselves feeling isolated in our new “environment”! We were now mostly on Zoom, unable to communicate musically in the chamber music ensemble settings we were accustomed to. And yet, as school progressed, we all learned new ways to work together, and to achieve good musical results. Our work took on a new form: we found ways to breathe together, to listen more intently, to take pride in our accomplishments — no matter how small, to scale new heights, to work harder than ever to attain our goals, and not to give in to the restrictive nature of working in a pandemic! We stopped taking “just playing our instruments” for granted! Every little detail now meant something special.

GraceNotes, like the other music ensembles, also had a different and much more challenging semester than usual. Instead of the ensemble being in LL6 all together singing in harmony, we had to create music while being isolated. This forced each singer to work on themselves individually as artists — really focusing on what they bring to the table. The hardest part for this was to keep the feeling of connection and love that GraceNotes has created over the course of the last few years. Our weekly zoom rehearsals aimed to keep this spirit of connection alive and I believe it is apparent in the outcome of the videos that we were able to pull this off. 

The Grace Dance Ensemble has continued to meet over Zoom to dance together. As individuals and an ensemble, we have explored the full range of possibilities available to us as a community of dancers and choreographers. Ensemble co-directors, Ms. Pommiss and Mr. Simon-Train jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with the vocal and instrumental ensembles once again. For the evening’s finale, Ms. Pommiss, Mr. Leonard and Mr. K decided early in the semester that they wanted to collaborate on a piece that would be an homage to New York City. What better song than “New York, New York”? For “An Ode to New York”, Dance Ensemble members learned choreography in their living rooms that was then brought outside onto city streets, and into parks, and backyards. This footage was then edited together with that of Jazz Ensemble and Gracenotes, along with the mastered tracks. 

Another main aspect of collaboration for this concert was the Protest Anthem Project, which was created by the Dance Ensemble and GraceNotes. This project began at the beginning of the school year, and was designed to give students the opportunity to make sense of what is going on in our world, and to find alternative, but no less powerful, ways of communicating, most notably through movement and song. Many of our Dance Ensemble and Gracenotes students use the arts as a vehicle for change, and as a place to be both seen and heard by the community. This is in part because these students stand on the shoulders of alumni, who came before them and paved the way by bridging activism and the performing arts.

During Dance Ensemble’s late August preseason, Dance Ensemble co-directors Ms. Pommiss and Mr. Thomas-Train invited Soleil Andrews ‘19, Stephanie Cox ‘19, Georgia Ossorguine ‘18 and Camille Segre-Lawrence ‘18 into the virtual studio. They zoomed in from dorm rooms and off-campus apartments to discuss their inspiration and teach excerpts of their pieces. From there, dancers and singers were placed into artistic teams to decide on issues that were important to them, such as the Black Lives Matter Movement, racial violence and police brutality, climate change and the environment. The resulting videos represent a collaboration where we navigated the realities of working over Zoom. GraceNotes used inspiration from recent and historical protest movements to create original songs that are designed to motivate, inspire, and lift up. Using these original songs, Dance Ensemble members created parallel works of dance as their own acts of protest. Despite the distance we are all facing, this project gave us all the opportunity to connect, process and heal. 

Despite its new format, the triumphant nature of the winter show remained unchanged, showcasing and celebrating a semester of hard work, dedication, and beautiful music.

You can view each performance below:

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