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Notre Dame singing groups adapt rehearsals, performances to meet COVID-19 challenges

| Friday, September 11, 2020

Various singing groups at Notre Dame are adapting their approaches to rehearsals and performances for the fall semester to meet the COVID-19 health guidelines put in place by the University.

On June 22, vice president for student affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding announced in a letter to students that the University would not permit “group vocal activities indoors.” 

In light of these limits, several groups are conducting outdoor rehearsals, physically distanced while wearing masks. Others have begun preparing virtually for performances.

Folk Choir and Glee Club have been utilizing the tents placed on the quad by the University, according to group leadership, for regular evening rehearsals. Folk Choir president, senior Elizabeth Heidenreich said the group secured regular access to a tent through Campus Ministry. Glee Club president, senior Phil Lally said their director arranged a tent dedicated to the club’s use that faces Irish Green.

Erin Fennessy | The Observer
Folk Choir rehearses in a tent on DeBartolo Quad on Sept. 8. University singing groups have had to find new rehearsal spaces due to COVID-19 safety guidelines prohibiting indoor singing practices.

The presidents of Harmonia and Echoes — two student-organized a capella groups — said they are also working on securing consistent outdoor rehearsal space.

Harmonia co-president, senior Mary Zakowski said her group has been practicing outside on the quads, gathering informally while waiting to reserve tent space.

“We kind of just set up camp and practiced out on the quad,” Zakowski said. “We’re hoping to reserve tent space in the future, especially for when the weather is supposed to be bad, but the two-week shutdown delayed that.”

Echoes president, senior Calais Nobuhara also said the recent rainy weather and the two-week campus lockdown have been challenges for maintaining outdoor rehearsals. She said that in spite of these challenges, the group remains committed to meeting in-person.

“The point of a capella is group singing, which makes it really hard for us to rehearse virtually,” Nobuhara said. “Trying to rehearse over Zoom just doesn’t work, the lag time makes it impossible to sing with several people at the same time.”

In contrast, PEMCo is holding their rehearsals virtually for the time being, according to artistic director, senior Danny Shaw.

The musical theatre company has adapted its fall production to a review, in which songs from various shows with a common theme are performed together as a show. Shaw, who is also serving as the director for the review, said the songs selected for this fall’s review are mostly solos with a few duets and rehearsals have been conducted via Zoom so far.

Shaw added that a particular challenge for musical theatre is the necessity of planning ahead.

“Especially with musical theatre, you have to plan really far in advance because there’s such a division of labor and it’s such a multifaceted production,” Shaw said. “It’s very hard to progress when you don’t have all of your questions answered.”

Many groups said they were able to welcome new members by conducting their auditions virtually, in which auditionees were asked to submit a video of themselves singing for consideration.

Folk Choir conducted their auditions through Campus Ministry, in which auditionees submitted a video and ranked their preferences of the various Campus Ministry choirs, according to Heidenreich.

Glee Club and Harmonia also invited prospective members to submit videos of themselves singing for consideration. Zakowski said use of social media was helpful in recruiting and connecting with auditionees. Similarly, PEMCo asked hopeful performers to record and submit a song for consideration in the review, according to Shaw.

In previous years, Harmonia and Glee Club performed for campus visitors on home football weekends. Both are hoping to hold some kind of outdoor performances this semester, according to leadership.

Lally said the Glee Club is looking into virtual performances that coincide with football weekends.

“That could be exciting because one of our traditions is to sing in front of Touchdown Jesus on game weekends,” he said. “We can’t really do that this year, so we’re trying to find ways to keep up our game weekend presence.”

Zakowski said she has been informed that performing groups will be able to book the stage on the new Library Lawn for short performances.

“I’m really happy Library Lawn is being offered for performances because I personally love our concerts,” she said. “It’s nice to have something we can work toward and have ways we can perform our music for an audience.”

Many group leaders expressed their gratitude to be reunited with their musical communities after many months apart, regardless of how the logistics of rehearsing and performing pan out.

Shaw said his goal for the year was to produce some kind of show so members of PEMCo could continue to express themselves creatively.

“I wanted us to make sure that we produced something so that people could still have a creative outlet during this time,” he said. “Especially for the freshmen, I’m very happy that some of them found us and have gotten involved.”

Lally said he’s grateful that the Glee Club can continue to serve as an anchor in the busy lives of its members.

“We’re just all so happy to be back and so grateful that we have the opportunity to be able to keep performing,” he said. “We weren’t sure what was going to be possible with all the restrictions, but we’re very grateful for the fact that we’re able to do something.”

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About Erin Fennessy

Erin is a biochemistry and French major from Madison, Wisconsin, who is also minoring in the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She writes news, and takes and edits photos for The Observer.

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