Gustavus Choir and Gustavus Wind Orchestra Premiere Virtual Tour Concerts

Featuring a mix of music and personal narratives, the innovative virtual tours share Gustavus music with the world amidst the continuing pandemic.
Posted on April 15th, 2021 by

The Gustavus Choir and The Gustavus Wind Orchestra will premiere their 2021 virtual tours in a back-to-back debut on Saturday, April 17, beginning at 7 p.m. The performances will be hosted on the Gustavus Fine Arts YouTube channel and available to stream free on demand for at least the next six months.

The Gustavus Choir will sing an eclectic program of choral repertoire ranging from the Renaissance to today, including the world premiere of “Kouraj,” a work written for the choir by Haitian composer Sydney Guillaume. The Gustavus Wind Orchestra program, “Heroes: Facing Adversity and Destiny,” presents a thematic exploration of film scores highlighting different portrayals of Hollywood’s hero characters.

The Gustavus choir spreads out across three floors of Beck Hall during a January Term rehearsal.

Last spring, the Gustavus Wind Orchestra was about to head out on tour when COVID-19 caused a “Stay at Home” order in Minnesota and the College transitioned to online course delivery. In a flash, students who had been honing their craft for months found themselves back at home, away from their fellow musicians, without an audience, and for some, no way to create music at all.

As summer began to give way to fall, the Douglas Nimmo Professor of the Gustavus Wind Orchestra James Patrick Miller, and the Jon and Anita Thomsen Young Distinguished Chair and Conductor of the Gustavus Choir Brandon Dean started talking about how they could create a meaningful “touring” experience for Gustavus students—even if they couldn’t actually go on the road.

“We wanted to pull together virtual tours that incorporated the same amount of preparation, camaraderie, and musical excellence as we would experience in a more traditional year,” Miller said. “In conversations with Dr. Dean, we decided on separate projects on the same timeline, working in parallel even as we prepared our own unique programs.”

“Touring is a special experience for all of us. It is simultaneously an end and a beginning,” Dean said. “When we board the buses, it represents the culmination of the learning process. But when you enter a new community and make music in performance there is something powerful that happens. A new and deeply human learning begins.”

Both groups took advantage of the College’s January Term to learn the history and context behind the music in addition to sectional and full-group rehearsals. The Gustavus Choir held rehearsals in the Torrey Atrium of Beck Hall, where student musicians were able to spread out across three floors to ensure social distancing while wearing custom masks designed for singing. Students in the Gustavus Wind Orchestra adjusted to playing their instruments with bell covers and their own special masks designed for each instrument.

“January Term is a transformational time for the ensemble. We are intentional about building community, whether through musical experiences or other activities,” Dean said.  During this particular January Term, the choir members worked closely with internationally renowned composer Sydney Guillaume to bring a new work to life.  “Working with Sydney was definitely a highlight of the year. It was really inspiring to see how the choir members connected to the central message of the piece.”

The Gustavus Wind Orchestra filmed its virtual tour concert in Christ Chapel.

In Miller’s January Term class, students were treated to a guest lecture and question-and-answer session with Bruce Broughton, the 10-time Emmy Award winner and Academy Award-nominated composer of film scores including Silverado, The Rescuers Down Under, and Tombstone. Students wrote papers contrasting and comparing hero and villain characters from the films, connecting them through the storytelling inherent in the films and their scores.

“I’ve been asked if it’s a pops concert and the answer is that even though our music may be from a more popular genre, each of these scores represent significant art that are engaging and inspiring on their own merits,” Miller said. “The pieces complement each other well and each of them takes on or explores an enduring or contemporary challenge, which is a central focus of the liberal arts curriculum at Gustavus.”

For both Miller and Dean, the virtual concerts are an innovative way to accomplish the same goal as a more traditional tour—showcasing the talents of Gustavus students and sharing the power of music with the world.

“Touring is a vital community component of what music ensembles are at Gustavus, and I’m excited to provide our students the opportunity to shine in a creative new way,” Miller said.

“We all have a greater appreciation for what it means to make music in community,” Dean said. “When that was so abruptly taken from us last spring, it was hard for all of us. The opportunity to make music together again has been really healing.”

The 2021 virtual tours will premiere on the Gustavus Fine Arts Youtube channel on Saturday, April 17, with the Gustavus Choir at 7 p.m. and the Gustavus Wind Orchestra immediately following. Digital programs for the Gustavus Choir and Gustavus Wind Orchestra concerts are available online.

 

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