BLS’ Orchestras While Virtual

By Hannah Oh (III), Contributing Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of life, especially the performing arts. Ensembles have changed significantly, concerts have been canceled and events, including the Boston Latin School orchestras’ annual Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) All-State Conference, are now remote.

The deviation from in-person rehearsals at BLS has been difficult for students and teachers alike. Mona Wang (I), who plays the viola, explains that “It takes immense effort to ensure that you’re at the correct tempo and for many, it usually requires a few takes.” Ms. Susan Shipley, the director of the string orchestras, agrees, saying that “In the middle of a big class, there are some students who go along for the ride, but now they have to produce the entire piece, right notes at the right time, and in tune.”

Ms. Shipley, Ms. Maureen Hefflinger and Ms. Stephanie Chen have been providing feedback to students’ recordings of pieces as well, which presents new challenges. It is impossible to predict what the result will sound like from individual videos because “a lot of things fall through the cracks, and I can’t hear harmonies playing at the same time,” Ms. Shipley explains.

The musicians have also experienced “Zoom fatigue,” or exhaustion caused by video meetings. Claire Ma (I), who plays the violin, says, “Ensembles are all about creating music together with those around you, so without that feeling, orchestra rehearsals lack much of the enjoyability that it had before.”

Through all of these challenges, students feel grateful for the effort that the teachers have put in. Wang says, “I would like to thank Ms. Shipley. I have absolutely no idea how she was able to find such great repertoire, send us backing tracks at different speeds, and wrangle in multiple recordings from her hundreds of students in the way that she has done this year. […] Second, I would like to thank Mr. Pitts for his continued contribution to the BLS music department.” Ma feels similarly and says, “I appreciate the music department’s efforts in making the most of our resources in these times. […] I’d like to thank Ms. Shipley, Mr. Snyder, Ms. McKenna, and Mr. Pitts for spending their time on us young musicians.”

Despite the obstacles that the coronavirus brought about, teachers and students maintain a hopeful perspective. Wang reminisces on her past in orchestra: “Coming to orchestra and being able to create music with peers in BLS has meant a lot. While I might not get to see us win gold [at the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral and Conductors Association] yet again, cheer on my fellow violists in sectionals, goof around in person, or hear the applause of an audience of proud parents and faculty who are supporting our passion for the arts, I’m grateful that effort is still being made to create these spaces in virtual settings.”