Dartmouth performing arts groups get creative with virtual rehearsals, projects

by Mia Russo | 4/30/20 2:10am

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Singing over Zoom is not easy, and neither is coordinating a virtual dance routine or orchestral performance. However, many of Dartmouth’s performing arts groups still meet and rehearse weekly, even though the thing they rely on most — performing — is no longer possible. 

Many groups have taken their online meetings beyond just social bonding by finding imaginative ways to continue producing art and provide a creatively stimulating break from schoolwork. Isabel Wallace ’21, president of the Dartmouth Sings, explained that their meetings aim to maintain the group’s bond through Zoom events and games. However, members of the a cappella group are also learning music on their own and are working on stitching together a video composed of individual clips of people singing — a common project among many performance groups. 

Additionally, Wallace said, the Sings are working on redesigning and revitalizing their social media presence to put a greater emphasis on showcasing their identity as a group.  

“This is a really cool time to get to know everyone better, even though it’s a weird medium to do it all on,” Wallace said. “It’s fun and valuable, and you can build personal relationships in an odd, beautiful sort of way.”

Andy Bean ’23, music director for the Dartmouth Dodecaphonics, explained that one of their main goals this term is to keep up the momentum they created this past winter by participating in a variety of activities during rehearsal time, such as check-ins and games. In addition to social events, they have held a workshop for arranging a cappella compositions and, similar to the Sings, are working on editing together individual clips of them singing. Like the Sings, they also plan to expand their social media outreach and create promotional videos.

Though their spring break tour in Costa Rica was canceled, Edward Allen ’21, business manager for the Dartmouth Aires, said that the group has gotten creative with their projects this term.

“We made a custom song for the ’24s that was recently shared on the Dartmouth admissions social media page,” Allen said. “Each of us individually recorded our parts, and then our music director took 21 separate voice tracks and compiled them together to create a cohesive audio track.” 

Rockapellas manager Jessica Weil ’21 said that they turned to their group’s roots for inspiration this term and asynchronously recorded their founding song, “Ella’s Song,” which is currently available to view on YouTube. Weil said that the Rocks are working on creating more content to post on social media, hoping to get the ’24s excited for the fall. 

“Keeping the content going online is the only way we really have of letting the ’24s know what we do and who we are,” Weil said.

As difficult as it might sound given their physicality and reliance on in-person performance, Dartmouth’s dance groups have also managed to make the move online. In addition to managing the Rockapellas, Weil serves as the director of the Sugarplums, a jazz and contemporary dance group. From stretching and working out together to designing choreography for group TikTok dances, the group has made it a priority to stay connected during quarantine. Weil added that they are working on ways to give the seniors a proper send-off with a heartfelt video. 

According to Jesse Montoya ’22, a director of hip-hop dance group Ujima, the group has moved their close bond and high energy online. They work out together, host breakdancing workshops and create “UjiToks” — their version of TikTok dances. 

“A lot of people treat this group, myself included, as kind of an essential part of a weekly routine,” Montoya said. “Providing that structure for people during a time of uncertainty is essential for mental health and just happiness in general.” 

On top of stretching and working on dance techniques, the group hopes to find better ways to teach choreography over Zoom and make dance content to celebrate their seniors. Montoya said that they plan to release their projects on their Instagram and YouTube accounts, which they are developing this term.

Dartmouth’s orchestras have also had to adapt to the online term. The Wind Ensemble, directed by Brian Messier, has been meeting weekly to review submissions for the Wind Ensemble composition competition. The group will perform the winning composition throughout the next year, providing students with an opportunity to decide what they play and keep everyone invested and connected within the group, Messier said. 

“The ultimate goal is just to keep the family together and keep people connected to this community, to make sure that we still kind of feel that sense of belonging and togetherness while we're spread apart,” Messier said. “By incorporating this competition, it kind of helped me to do that in a productive and purposeful way, as opposed to just getting together and chatting for a few minutes.”

Additionally, Messier said that the Wind Ensemble will bring in guest composers, alumni and prospective ’24s to meetings. In the fall, the group recorded “Symphony for Winds ‘Dartmouth’” by Oliver Caplan ’04 for the College’s 250th anniversary, which will be released in the coming weeks. 

The Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra, directed by Filippo Ciabatti, has been exploring a variety of options to stay connected, from bringing in guest speakers, discussing repertoire, experimenting with virtual ensembles and utilizing the Hop@Home program to share previous performances with the greater community. There are many projects in the making, but Ciabatti said that his overall hope is to keep the love of music alive and for the group to operate as a support system for members who may need it.

“When you make music together, you create a special connection,” Ciabatti said. “I feel that this bond that’s been created over the years through the music … is something that cannot be wasted. It needs to be nurtured. It needs to be cultivated. I think it's very important [to continue meeting] — it keeps us glued together as a group and reminds us why we do what we do.”

According to director Walter Cunningham, the Gospel Choir has had a relatively easier transition to the remote term. Cunningham has been using online learning aids for the last decade to stay connected to his students, as he commutes to campus from Chicago. With recordings already prepared online to learn from and practice with, Cunningham said that the Gospel Choir’s greatest challenge is learning how to navigate virtual performances. The group is still in the process of stitching individual recordings together into full audio, but Cunningham hopes to release the songs soon.

Weil stressed that amid such a new and rapidly changing environment, many people have continued to find comfort in the performing arts.

“It’s kind of to create a sense of normalcy,” Weil said. “I think performing and creativity can be a good outlet for people just to spend time and energy on something that’s not schoolwork.”

According to Cunningham, staying connected through performing arts this term is an important way to maintain personal relationships and promote positivity.

“Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing,” Cunningham said.