Virtual Winter Arts Showcase


Source: Alanna Quirk-Aboujaoude (II)

BLS Concert Choir rehearses for the Virtual Winter Arts Showcase.

Each year, the Winter Concert unites the Boston Latin School community in celebration of the hard work of the students and staff in the school’s music program. Although families will be seated in their homes rather than the hardwood chairs of the BLS auditorium, this year’s Virtual Winter Arts Showcase will preserve the spirit and community of past concert nights.

The showcase will take place on December 23 and January 22, with concert bands and choirs on the first night and strings and beginner ensembles on the second night.

The format of the showcase will include two pre-recorded videos composed of audio and visual elements. Artwork from students will be displayed during parts of the videos and will also be featured on the cover of the program. Audio will be made up of students’ recordings and may feature videos of students with their instruments.

To make this possible, BLS music teachers have had to develop new skills in audio mixing and layering with a variety of different software. This effort has been led by Program Director Emeritus Mr. Paul Pitts (‘77) and Band Director Mr. Dennison Blackett. Students have recorded their pieces through platforms such as Soundtrap, which have then been put together to sound like a full ensemble.

As all classes have been virtual, this year’s concert preparations have looked different from in the past. With less preparation time, groups have had to cut back on the number of pieces they will be performing. Most ensembles have been working on one piece since the beginning of the year, instead of multiple. 

To prepare, the students have been submitting weekly recordings which their teachers provide feedback on. Although this advice is helpful, students have found it to be less effective than in-person guidance. 

Concert String Orchestra Violist, Mayara Ryland (II), was relieved to have the same music teacher as previous years but found it difficult to work together remotely. Ryland talks about her teacher, saying, “She can’t exactly see in class my fingers or my bow properly. She can only hear me, so I can’t get critiques like I would in person, so it’s a lot of me having to critique myself.”

Students have also found the limited amount of class time to be a challenge. Following the remote school schedule, most ensembles occur once a week. Sectionals, which consist of smaller class sizes, are held every other week.

Despite all these new challenges, Ms. Margaret McKenna, Program Director of Visual & Performing Arts at BLS, believes students and families still have a lot to look forward to, saying that student performances reflect “so much resilience and so much dedication” to their work in performance ensembles. 

Both students and families will be pleasantly surprised by the final product, which many musicians still have yet to hear. It will be a surprise for band clarinetist, Anna Hsu (V), who thinks that “it will be interesting to hear what [they] all sound like” as an ensemble.

The virtual concert format will make it more accessible for families to celebrate their performers. Students in ensembles will also be able to appreciate their own performances and those of their peers. While the cheers of the audience will be missed, Ms. McKenna hopes to air the concert on a platform where people will do “little shout outs, appreciation, […] air high fives and […] clapping” to show appreciation for the student musicians.

Despite an unprecedented year, both performers and faculty are determined to make this concert one to remember. Although the process has been challenging, students and teachers have dedicated themselves to making the most of the circumstances. For Ms. McKenna, every Zoom class is a reminder of what makes the music community at BLS so special. She says, “Logging into those classes is really just the best part, to be able to see all the students. They’ve done remarkable work given all the circumstances, and I’m really excited to show them off.”