In a year of disconnection, Duke's musical groups have found ways to keep playing together.
Concerned about the spread of COVID-19 via instruments or singing, music groups such as the Duke University Chorale, Duke Sangeet and the Duke University Marching Band have had to adjust their rehearsals.
“Music is founded on the interaction of a singer and their audience,” said first-year Kashyap Sreeram, a member of Duke Sangeet, which primarily focuses on South Asian classical music. “I never expected being able to foster an environment that cultivated that interaction virtually.”
Marching band members also never imagined having to play their instruments with bell covers, wearing masks with a hole for the mouth, separated from each other by 10 feet.
“Marching band rehearsals are in person, because we tend to be quite distanced anyways, and we have these cloth bell covers that catch our spit as we’re blowing out,” said first-year Zahra Hassan, a member of the marching band.
“And then you had to wear a mask while you played,” said sophomore Parker Harris, a marching band member. “The mask had holes just big enough for your mouthpiece. It was really weird at first. It took a couple days to get used to it. And it took a couple extra seconds before each song. While you were physically playing you had that on, but as soon as you stopped playing, you had to put on a normal mask.”
Harris, who is also a staff reporter for The Chronicle, was in the band last year and noticed considerable differences between the rehearsal style pre-pandemic and now.
“Normally during football season, we’d rehearse like two to four times a week but this past fall we just did two times a week,” said Harris. “We usually have a mix of indoor and outdoor. This time we had to do all of it outside because of COVID.”
Additionally, since events and football games are being put on hold during the pandemic, the band has been doing small impromptu performances.
“We have random pop-up performances,” Hassan said. “Just for fun, we go play some tunes out on the quad. Our director definitely wants to do more of those this semester.”
“I feel really safe,” said Harris. “When we first started out, our band director had to run all this by the athletic department and from what he told us, they were really impressed with what we were doing and nobody in the band has gotten COVID so it has been effective.”
Sangeet has taken a rather different approach. For this academic year, meetings have been exclusively virtual, with all performances done outside of meeting times.
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“We give distinct roles to each other,” said first-year Sachin Sanjay, a Sangeet member. “Instead of performing and recording songs all at once, there’s separate teams each focusing on one instrument or one soundtrack. So we kind of work very separately and eventually combine it together.”
While the marching band is fully in-person and Sangeet is fully online, choir students have been using a mix of the two approaches
“On Thursdays we have Zoom rehearsals, and on Tuesdays we go in person,” said first-year Julia Leeman, a member of the Duke University Chorale. “We go into Baldwin Auditorium, and we all stand 10 feet apart from each other with masks on. We have singer masks that kind of look like a duck bill, that comes out pretty far so we don’t breathe in the fabric. It’s very funny looking.”
The spaced-out practices feel different, first-year Sophia Leeman said.
“When singing in choir, I’m so used to standing with someone singing right next to me, and your voice becomes less dominant in your own head,” Leeman said. “But when you’re standing 10 feet apart, it feels so much more vulnerable.”
Nonetheless, Julia Leeman feels that in-person rehearsals are much more effective than online ones. On Zoom, choir members can’t all sing together with their mics on because of the delay, so they have to leave their mics off and watch their conductor.
“We did a couple virtual pieces last semester and I think the harmonies came out much better in the in-person ones just because we were all in one spot,” Sophia Leeman said.
Whether online or in person, these groups are grateful for the opportunity to practice and perform.
“It’s really refreshing just being in person for once, tooting a horn for a few hours instead of doing French homework,” said Hassan. “It’s a great time.”
“We’re still gonna put music out there,” Julia Leeman said. “And, you know, I think it’s more special because we’re all together.”