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Clark College Choirs Thrive Despite Difficulties With Online Learning

A penguin sits in front of a laptop leading a virtual choir session over Zoom.
(Illustration by Golden Guevara)

The Clark College choir program has embraced virtual learning and adopted creative ways of rehearsing despite the cancellation of the annual fall festival and other concerts due to COVID-19. 

Jacob Funk, the director of choirs at Clark, has morphed his three choir classes to suit an online platform while still ensuring they maintain a sense of community, rehearse productively and learn about music. He does this by focusing on aspects of the choir that don’t involve singing as a group, such as music literacy, history and individual technique. 

Funk said that it is difficult to obtain a software that allows everyone to sing at once, in sync, with no lag. So, instead of singing all at once over Zoom, choir students learn their vocal parts individually, on mute, accompanied by a pianist. 

Fifth-year Chorale Choir member, Terese Dayton, feels as if the choir community has been denied some of the most basic aspects of singing as a choir. “I would prefer to be in a big group and sing as one, sitting next to somebody and hearing them breathe,” Dayton said.

At the end of the term, students will take part in a “virtual choir” by sending in recordings of themselves singing their vocal parts. A music producer will compile all the individual parts together to create a fully composed piece that sounds like the students are all singing together. 

“It’s definitely not the same,” said second-year Concert Choir member Olivia Aurich. “But we still definitely have that connection.” 

Along with attending Zoom classes, students practice sight reading through a website called “Sight Reading Factory.”  Sight-reading is the practice of reading and performing a piece of music “on-sight,” or without preparation. Funk said that music literacy hasn’t always been the choir’s top priority, but since students do not have the opportunity to sing altogether, the focus has shifted to individual singers. 

“They send in a 30-second recording every week and I give everybody feedback,” Funk said. “I’ve heard everybody’s music literacy and their voices improve,” he added.

Students also participate in discussions based on the history and importance of the pieces they’re rehearsing. This takes place on discussion boards on Canvas, as well as breakout groups on Zoom.  

The seventh annual Fall Choral Festival has been postponed to November 2021 due to COVID-19. Funk said he thought all summer about how to conduct a virtual festival, but due to the technological difficulties that would arise, the best option was to cancel. 

With the announcement that the winter term will also be held online, Funk said he has to generate new ideas to keep the classes engaging for students. He is hopeful that in the near future the choirs will be approved to meet in person to conduct rehearsal with safety measures in place.

Overall, Funk is content with the decision to make fall term online and is grateful for the ability to keep the community together. 

“We are able to keep everyone safe and we are still able to make music,” Funk said.

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