The winter and spring concerts have been a longstanding tradition at Hopkins, attracting large audiences and displaying wide repertoires from the Orchestra and Concert Choir. However, the music and arts community was hit hard by Covid-19, forcing them to turn to recordings and Zoom performances.
This year’s Spring Concert took place under the graduation tent on May 29, with performances from Concert Choir, the Junior School Choir, the Orchestra, and multiple chamber groups. Arts Department Chair and Director of Instrumental Music Robert Smith described the change in concert venue: “The choir and orchestra have been performing at Battell Chapel and various other churches for years. Our Battell winter concerts attracted the most people and had a beautiful setting. All of that was closed off to us.” Smith, along with other members of the administration, made an informed decision in accordance with the direction of the school and Connecticut state guidelines to hold the concert outdoors, allowing for an audience presence in the safest possible way.
In preparation for the concert, the orchestra and choirs have had to prepare in unusual ways. Like most activities this year, rehearsals were affected by Covid-19, demanding more effort and time from directors and performers. With Hopkins spending a majority of the year in the hybrid learning model, most rehearsals were half-capacity: “Practicing under the hybrid model means that not all of the students can hear each other. Certainly, when you have students over Zoom, you can’t ask them to unmute themselves and play at the same time because there’s a lag and the sound won’t line up. So, we’ve been rehearsing in smaller groups and letting the students at home listen to the in-person students and play along with their microphones muted. The following week we would switch those roles,” said Smith. Director of Choral Music Erika Schroth found that singers have had to work twice as hard to create music this year: “We’ve all had to have a lot of faith. Knowing that if we laid the ground-work, put in the time, learned the notes, and tried to build community as best we could, that in the end, we’d come up with something that feels real and meaningful.”
Schroth said the biggest change for the choir and herself was “proximity. It’s all the moments when people are crammed together in a room and you laugh, cry, and sing together. It’s the actual physical closeness.” Schroth credited staying at home for the immense personal growth she’s seen in her singers this year, and said it “wouldn’t have happened otherwise.” The concert, she hoped, would bring back “that really intense person-to-person connection we crave.” Both Smith and Schroth found that the repertoire they selected for the concert is reflective of the past year.
Smith spoke about the importance of creating music: “As a musician, performing and communicating a story through music is in my soul. The orchestra has been working so hard during class to determine what each season [from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons] means. Vivaldi wrote sonnets to go along with each of the four seasons, so it’s the first real example of programmatic music that we have. Vivaldi wrote this music to reflect a story, quite literally. You’ll hear bird calls, you’ll feel ice on you, you’ll hear thunderstorms and gusts of wind. It’s been bottled up now for so long.” Smith was excited to reconnect with a live audience: “It’s been so artificial and so synthetic to do this on a microphone and mixing, and it really hasn’t felt the same since March of 2020.” Smith continued, “There’s a lot of energy there that we need[ed] to get out [to] celebrate the joy of being a performing ensemble again.”
When choosing music for the second term, Schroth looked for something sustainable. “The things we are singing right now should reflect our aspirations. Composers set text to melody because the text is heightened and enforced. Thinking about the meaning of words and how they can be elevated with melody, harmony, and rhythm was essential this year,” Schroth said.
To send off the seniors after an unusual year, Smith said the orchestra would perform “the ‘Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1.’ Being able to
play the seniors’ live music, finally, because we weren’t able to do that last year, is a huge tradition and an honor of the orchestra. Also, there are four seniors in the orchestra and we get to give back to them. That has special meaning for us, and whenever we play that in-class we give it an extra special boost because we know that this is a personal gift that we’re giving to other students. For students to want to give back to each other is a pretty big deal.” Per tradition, Concert Choir will be sending off their seniors with the “Irish Blessing,” a song about hope and looking forward to what’s to come.
After a year that encompassed many struggles in the performing arts world, the Hopkins community looked forward to its first live concert in over a year. Schroth encapsulated the importance of this return to live performance: “Performers showed up, learned the music, and contributed to something that’s way bigger than them.”