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ND Glee Club performs digitally amidst pandemic

| Wednesday, April 15, 2020

“Notre Dame, our mother, tender strong and true. Proudly in the heavens, gleams thy gold and blue …”

Across the screen, the Notre Dame Glee Club members sing the renowned melody that evokes images of people huddling and swaying together at the conclusion of important campus events. The club has sang the Alma Mater ever since it debuted in 1930. 

Though the rendition has remained the same for the last 90 years, the circumstances could not be more different; like most University activities, the Glee Club’s performance ventured to the digital world. 

Rather than harmonizing up on a stage, the men’s faces flashed up on screen creating a collage depiction of a chanting choir. They all sported different outfits and showcased a myriad of backgrounds. They were not together in body, but they remained together in song.

Virtualizing the Alma Mater

…Glory’s mantel cloaks thee, golden is thy fame…

On Tuesday, March 17, Glee Club senior co-presidents, Joseph Cozzi and Timothy Jacklich sent out an email asking club members to provide a video of themselves singing their part of the Alma Mater.

The next day, they received about 50 responses — an overwhelming majority from the 60-member club had decided to take on the challenge. But how exactly does a choir perform when its members are miles apart?

“In a way it’s kind of like a big group karaoke project taking place, you know, with about 50 different guys singing to the same recording. Then, we’re just stitching it all together,” Glee Club Director Daniel Stowe sad.

To ensure everyone would come in at the appropriate time, Stowe sent out a reference track from one of the club’s CDs. Participants then had to listen to the track with their headphones on and make a cellphone video of them singing their part. Finally, all the members’ entries were compiled into one virtual performance video.

The Alma Mater was chosen as the club’s first-ever virtual rendition due to its popularity among both the overall community and Glee Club members.

“The Alma Mater is the University’s song, but it’s also one that we love and sing hundreds and hundreds of times every year,” Cozzi said. “We don’t really need to practice that one as a group so much because we know it.”

According to Stowe, the finished product would not have been possible without the help and expertise of KC Frye, associate creative director at the Office of Digital Learning. Frye stitched together the individual videos and produced the final compilation.

Both Jacklich and Cozzi said watching their group’s virtual performance evoked a myriad of emotions and tears: “I cried. I was so emotional,” Jacklich said.

“While [Jacklich and I] are disappointed we won’t do a lot of things as seniors, one of the things I know we are the most sad about is not singing in the commencement concert with all the guys,” Cozzi said. “So being able to continue in this [virtual] way and seeing the final product really reminded me of why I love being a part of the group. The fact that each of those individuals took the time to record their own part means so much.”

Though Cozzi and Jacklich relished the result of their project, they admitted singing from isolation was toilsome.

“It’s difficult to perform at the same level as we did on campus because isolated you’re not able to play off of the other people around you, which is usually our source of strength,” Jacklich said.

Cozzi said the most challenging part for him was transitioning from performing as a group — where they are used to hearing their parts complement each other and harmonize — to sitting at your bedroom or basement alone. 

However, despite the challenges and changes, Stowe said that the experience provided some interesting results.

“Usually, when you sing together in a choir, you’re really aware of what’s going on with the other parts, so you might change your voice a little bit to sing along. But, in a case like this, everyone is singing like a soloist,” Stowe said. “So in a way it’s interesting to see people project like they’re all soloists, and I was really pleased to hear how their voices aligned.”

Due to the project’s success, the group will continue performing virtually. According to Stowe, the Glee Club will record a rendition of “Ave Maria” which will come out in time for Holy Week.

Yet, the Glee Club’s director recognized that, despite the opportunity to venture towards the digital world, grievances remain due to the semester’s abruptness.

“We’re thrilled that we had the chance to share Notre Dame culture with a wide audience, both inside and outside the Notre Dame family. We’re happy that we can make a very minor, small contribution to retain the sense of family that Notre Dame encourages successfully. But, for me as the director, I feel terrible for the seniors,” Stowe said.

An abrupt ending

“…And our hearts forever, praise thee Notre Dame…”

When the news of in-person class cancellation broke, the Glee Club was in the midst of their seven-city spring break tour throughout the South. 

According to Stowe, the Student Activities Office (SAO) allowed the group to continue touring; however, as the day progressed and the level of concerns increased, the group eventually voted to suspend the tour.

Thursday, March 12, the club performed together one final time. Their last concert was held at a basilica in Asheville, North Carolina. 

“That night’s concert was just absolutely precious,” Jacklich said. “We gave a little pep talk beforehand and the main message was just ‘hey, there’s all this garbage going on right now and we have all these different fears and anxieties, but we have the incredible opportunity to make some beautiful music and to perform a wonderful concert tonight.”

Inside what Stowe said was “a beautiful venue with a fine audience,” the Glee Club performed a song that carries an enormous level of significance for the group: the Ave Maria.

“That song is is really one that means a lot to us. For most of the guys in the group, that’s actually the first song that you ever hear the group sing. When you first join, we perform that,” Cozzi said. 

Cozzi was tasked with conducting the Glee Club’s final concert on tour, and he said the group became sentimental after singing Ave Maria.

“It was incredibly emotional. By the end of it, probably 10 guys were crying because it means so much really — it is the perfect encapsulation of what it means to be part of the Glee Club, that religious aspect of singing the Hail Mary,” Cozzi said.

The next day, the group members packed their bags onto the bus and headed back to Notre Dame for the last time. Although disappointed by the circumstances, Jacklich said he felt confident about the group’s ability to overcome the obstacles.

Back in 1918, the Glee Club weathered the last major flu pandemic, you know, we’ll get through this one,” Jacklich said. “Having that knowledge of our history and legacy eases the blow a little bit, just knowing that we’ll be part of [Glee Club] even after we leave the university.”

Cozzi attributed the club’s diversity to their ability to rise against the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Glee Club is a melting pot of people,” he said.

“It brings together so many people from different walks of life, so that a little bit of distance is another challenge, but clearly not one that we cannot overcome.”

Brothers in Song

“…And our heart forever, love thee Notre Dame.”

Whenever Cozzi and Jacklich send out an email to Glee Club members, they address their messages with “Dear Brothers.” For both co-presidents, the club is more than a group of performing men; it is a brotherhood, or family, that transcends time and distance.

“It is certainly a fantastic musical group and it challenges us as musicians, but it’s also really a brotherhood. We feel very much like a family and take care of each other like a family,” Jacklich said. “I think definitely one of the defining factors of any person’s experience in the Glee Club is immediately having a huge number of friends who are going to have your back no matter what.”

According to Jacklich, such familial aspect within the group has characterized the Glee Club ever since its creation in 1915; the co-president said it was also a source of comfort during these times.

“The Glee Club as an institution is much larger than any of us, and we really become aware of that when we have our reunions every three years so having that legacy undergirding our day today is really a form of support,” Jacklich said. “Certainly for the seniors who won’t get to sing at our commencement concert, we know that in two years we’ll be coming back for the Glee Club reunions, so our connection to the Glee Club has not been severed by this.”

Throughout the separation created by the pandemic, Cozzi and Jacklich have made it their mission to maintain the close-knit relationship that defines the club; however, their inability to rehearse together has proven to be a challenge.

“I mean, in a normal year we practice Monday through Thursday for an hour each day. So that change to kind of working remotely and of not being the same place has really been a challenge for us, but we certainly keep that the social dynamic and the familial aspect intact,” Jacklich said. “I mean our group chat is going nonstop and we’ve made lots of opportunities for our members to remain in contact with each other.”

One of the opportunities the group has seized in order to maintain their connectedness was, in fact, the virtual rendition of the Alma Mater, Cozzi said.

According to Cozzi, club members are utilizing their musical talents to not only remain close to one another, but to also keep being connected to the family that is Notre Dame as a whole.

“There’s a transcendent nature that comes along with music that spans all across the world and across time, so I can’t think of a better thing to bring people together,” Cozzi said.

Despite their isolation between one another and despite the distance that separates the Glee Club from the Golden Dome, the group remains committed to always remain “Brothers in song.”

Even though we’re far apart, we will never stop singing for Our Lady,” Jacklich said.“Now, more than ever, we are conscious of the importance this kind of music can play in boosting people’s morale and giving them hope, so we’re really committed to playing our part in bringing some light into what is a very dark time.”

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