Revival of In-Person Choir

Posted 5/19/21

Benjamin O’Connor had not conducted an in-person choir performance since the 2nd of March last year. Shortly after that date, the devastating COVID-19 Pandemic forced Minnesota to place …

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Revival of In-Person Choir


Benjamin O’Connor had not conducted an in-person choir performance since the 2nd of March last year. Shortly after that date, the devastating COVID-19 Pandemic forced Minnesota to place restrictions on social gatherings such as dining, competitions, and indoor entertainment. The Director of Choirs at Park High School restrained from putting on in-person concerts for 14 months as a result. However, this streak was terminated when the Music Small Ensemble Concert occurred on Thursday, May 13 in the PHS Auditorium.

The evening started with the Bella Voce Mixed Choir. They sang three songs beginning with “Love Is Love”, followed by “Tomorrow (from Annie),” and closing with “I Lift My Voice.” From O’Connor’s perspective, this set list projected themes of “togetherness and empowerment” and exposed spectators to the musical theater genre. In anticipation of the Music Small Ensemble Concert, the Bella Voce Mixed Choir collectively rehearsed before school hours on Wednesdays this year. These practices occurred via Zoom and, when it was safe, in the PHS building.

A portion of the PHS Band made an appearance in the middle of last Thursday’s program. The Brass Quintet is a group of five high school students who play either the trumpet, French horn, trombone, or tuba. In preparation for the Music Small Ensemble Concert, they rehearsed together for 45 minutes each Wednesday morning. “High Barbary,” “AveMaria,” and “Inspector Gadget” were their contributions to the showcase. Thomas Storm, the Director of Bands at PHS, conducted the Brass Quintet. During an exchange with The Journal, he depicted their set list, “Fun. Variety. No theme really. Sometimes good music doesn’t necessarily need a theme.”

Next, the Chamber Choir was vitalized to sing for a live audience. After all, they had been practicing one to two times per week all school year. Their song cycle consisted of “old-school” and “new-school” pop songs. “Rainbow,” a piece by Kasey Musgraves, made for a modern break in between “Do Wah Diddy” and “Sh-Boom.” After performing these three tunes, the Chamber Choir was joined by the Bella Voce Mixed Choir onstage. As one, the groups concluded the Music Small Ensemble Concert with “Come And Sing.” This finale conveyed the message that music has the potential to unify humanity.

In between the three ensembles’ presentations, five vocal soloists took center stage and performed classical pieces. Although Macey Kaufenberg, Trinity Hobot, Jenna Gutterman, Aries LaChapelle, and Olivia Bedard were all of high-school age, they sounded like well-seasoned and mature musicians.

As the Music Small Ensemble Concert progressed, an audience, moderate in size, observed and applauded.

It was a “combination of things” that empowered O’Connor and Storm to operate the Music Small Ensemble Concert at this point in the COVID-19 Pandemic. An update to state guidelines was one aspect. In effect by May 7 in Minnesota, indoor entertainment venues were permitted to reach 50% capacity and 250 people. Another assuring factor for O’Connor was the fact that a “small” and “select” group of high schoolers would be participating. With an expected attendance of 35 musicians, social distancing would be feasible in the Auditorium. Storm delivered some final reasons for facilitating an in-person concert during these times. “I felt comfortable with the vaccine, masking, social distancing and trusting others to do the same,” he stated.

Because the Small Ensemble Concert was PHS Choir’s first in-person performance in over a year, it meant a great deal to the program. O’Connor explained that the evening permitted the commitment of his students to pay off. “First of all, it just gives these singers that sort of go above and beyond regular choir classes an opportunity to be showcased and perform…It’s two choirs that meet before school so they’re extra-curricular… Some soloists mixed in as well. Some soloists that performed for the Solo-Ensemble Festival this year, which was virtual this year. But, this will give those soloists a chance to sing for a live audience.”

For PHS Band, the Small Ensemble Concert served as a second in-person showcase since the COVID-19 outbreak. Their initial return to live-audience performances occurred on April 19. That evening, the Wind Ensemble united with the Pit Orchestra to entertain a modest crowd. Storm recounted the gravity of that concert, “It fed my soul to share music with people again-and not just people, but families and loved ones. I have to admit that I teared up in rehearsal that morning. It was the first time we had that much of the band together and we were going to give a concert that night. Finally! I was so proud of the kids for stepping up and preparing in just 5 weeks and they performed beautifully.”

Approaching the Small Ensemble Concert, Storm claimed to possess the “same expectations” of “working together to make music to be shared, to move and to inspire.”

After reading about a monumental evening for artistry in Cottage Grove, locals may be curious about how they may invest in PHS Music henceforward. The Journal interviewed O’Connor on the matter. “Eventually, [PHS Choir] will have performances that are more open to the wider public…November/ December, we’ll be singing out in the community in various community events. So, feel free to stop by and support your community but also, listen to the choir while you’re there…The band as well, they start working on their marching band…in June already and then they’ll start participating in parades and football games so, supporting them as well.”

In-person music events are returning to Cottage Grove! The Journal intends to advertise them as they become more available to the public.